Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fact is....

It's funny about facts. I mean, just the other day, my daughter was researching continents.
"How many are there?" she wanted to know.

We googled and found that some people go by 6 (Europeans- that is) while others (North Americans) say 7 (North America and South America-but what about Central America?).

We read on to find out that most geographers don't even bother with continents -preferring to use 'regions' of the world.
"I just want to know how many continents there are!" my daughter sighed in frustration.

Fact is, facts change. A fact today might not necessarily be a fact tomorrow.

Darn fickle humans! It makes it so difficult for the ones who insist that knowledge be neatly parceled,tidily compartmentalized.

How annoying that there is more than one answer to a question;that there is more than one way to solve a problem. What a nuisance it is that there are multiple points of view and that the world is a very,very complex place to be in.

To make things worse, why must facts and imagination mix? It would be so much easier if imagination, creativity would be separate.

Take this excerpt from Charles Dicken's Hard Times.

'Girl number twenty,' said the gentleman, smiling in the calm strength of knowledge.

Sissy blushed, and stood up.

'So you would carpet your room -- or your husband's room, if you were a grown woman, and had a husband -- with representations of flowers, would you,' said the gentleman. 'Why would you?'

'If you please, sir, I am very fond of flowers,' returned the girl.

'And is that why you would put tables and chairs upon them, and have people walking over them with heavy boots?'

'It wouldn't hurt them, sir. They wouldn't crush and wither if you please, sir. They would be the pictures of what was very pretty and pleasant, and I would fancy --'

'Ay, ay, ay! But you mustn't fancy,' cried the gentleman, quite elated by coming so happily to his point. 'That's it! You are never to fancy.'

'You are not, Cecilia Jupe,' Thomas Gradgrind solemnly repeated, 'to do anything of that kind.'

'Fact, fact, fact!'
said the gentleman. And 'Fact, fact, fact!' repeated Thomas Gradgrind.

'You are to be in all things regulated and governed,' said the gentleman, 'by fact. We hope to have, before long, a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact. You must discard the word Fancy altogether.

You have nothing to do with it. You are not to have, in any object of use of ornament, what would be a contradiction in fact. You don't walk upon flowers in fact; you cannot be allowed to walk upon flowers in carpets. You don't find that foreign birds and butterflies come and perch upon your crockery.
You never meet with quadrupeds going up and down walls; you must not have quadrupeds represented upon walls. You must use,' said the gentleman, 'for all these purposes, combinations and modifications (in primary colours) of mathematical figures which are susceptible of proof and demonstration. This is the new discovery. This is fact. This is taste.'

The girl curtseyed, and sat down. She was very young, and she looked as if she were frightened by the matter of fact prospect the world afforded.

'Now, if Mr. M'Choakumchild,' said the gentleman, 'will proceed to give his first lesson here, Mr. Gradgrind, I shall be happy, at your request, to observe his mode of procedure.'

Mr. Gradgrind was much obliged. 'Mr. M'Choakumchild, we only wait for you.'

So, Mr. M'Choakumchild began in his best manner. He and some one hundred and forty other schoolmasters, had been lately turned at the same time, in the same factory, on the same principles, like so many pianoforte legs.

He had been put through an immense variety of paces, and had answered volumes of headbreaking questions. Orthography, etymology, syntax, and prosody, biography, astronomy, geography, and general cosmography, the sciences of compound proportion, algebra, land-surveying and leveling, vocal music, and drawing from models, were all at the ends of his ten chilled fingers.

He had worked his stony way into Her Majesty's most Honourable Privy Council's Schedule B, and had taken the bloom off the higher branches of mathematics and physical science, French, German, Latin, and Greek. He knew all about all the Water Sheds of all the world (whatever they are), and all the histories of all the peoples, and all the names of all the rivers and mountains, and all the productions, manners, and customs of all the countries, and all their boundaries and bearings on the two and thirty points of the compass. Ah, rather overdone, Mr. M'Choakumchild.

If he had only leant a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more!

He went to work in this preparatory lesson, not unlike Morgiana in the Forty Thieves: looking into all the vessels ranged before him, one after another, to see what they contained. Say, good M'Choakumchild. When from thy boiling store, thou shalt fill each jar brim full by and by, dost thou think that thou wilt always kill outright the robber Fancy lurking within -- or sometimes only maim him and distort him!


Anonymous said...

This is so interesting. I never thought about it this way. I love Hard Times as well,so glad to see you quote from here.

JJ said...

I read the post a few days ago, and the excerpt you quoted from resonated with me. I've since picked up the book and am enjoying it immensely. Thank you for the introduction.

Anonymous said...

But we need to know basic facts in order to build on knowledge. Kids can't learn facts though osmosis! There needs to be direction; how can a kid understand an advanced idea without first being introduced to the basic idea first? Isn't a 'hierarchical' order, natural?

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