Thursday, November 01, 2007

The autodidact

At the age of 6 William Blake was sent to school. The first day he observed the schoolmaster birching one of the students. Without a word he rose gathered his belongings and left. That is the history of his formal education.

Education as we understand it performs two functions:
1. to teach the elements of reading, writing and arithmetic.
2. to 'socialize' the pupil: train him to know and conform to the conventions of his society.

For most people the second function is by far the most significant.

William Blake taught himself the elements, but seems to have remained largely independent (and in fact innocent) of the second function.

Rather than live in the "mind forg'd manacles" as most people do, he examined every value and judged it on its own merits, which meant that he ignored many of society's dictates.

The ultimate rebel, his guidance came from what he (and his wife) called Heaven, or the Visions coming forth from the recesses of his own mind.

He deplored the tabula-rasa teaching of Locke that the (human) mind is at birth a "blank slate" without rules for processing data, and that data is added and rules for processing are formed solely by one's sensory experiences. In contrast Blake believed that the child was born with adequate direction from whence he came until he made the fatal choice of 'running with the pack', with more in fact from within than he could ever hope to gain by sensory experience.

Much of Blake's wisdom is esoteric in the extreme; even completely opaque to the conventional mind. In contrast revolutionaries of every type heard it gladly.
"I must create a system or by enslaved by another man's."

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3 comments:

Jon said...

Very interesting post, Larry.

I like that POV of Blake's... If I'm understanding correctly, that man is essentially good, but gets corrupted by society.

I quite agree. Why else would Jesus have said, "Come as a child?"

Sadiq Alam said...

that was a pretty good read. didn't know about this on Blake! so many great mind (or so to speak, all truly greatest minds) did learn outside formal school or class it seems.

peace!

Paul said...

It appears was fortunate to learn this lesson at an early age. Many of us learn it late in life -- if at all.