Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

We're about to Learn Bitter Lessons

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

We're about to Learn Bitter Lessons

Article excerpt

Most of us learn -- eventually -- from experience. That's the hard way. We'd avoid a lot of pain if we learned more from the experience of others.

To learn from the experience of others is the reason we study history. But history isn't taught much any more in our public schools, or in our colleges and universities. It shows.

History doesn't ever repeat itself, exactly. But as Mark Twain noted, it rhymes. History rhymes because people the world over are more like than unlike each other, and because people haven't changed all that much over the millennia. We have the same virtues and the same vices as the ancient Greeks and Romans. The same passions motivate us. So we make essentially the same mistakes, over and over again.

In an earlier column, I mentioned my favorite poem, "The Gods of the Copybook Headings," by my favorite poet, Rudyard Kipling. To those who don't study history, it must seem eerie how, writing in 1919, Kipling captured the essence of the Obama administration.

British schoolchildren in Kipling's day practiced penmanship in copybooks. The pages were blank, except for a maxim or proverb at the top, such as "honesty is the best policy," or "a penny saved is a penny earned," written in perfect handwriting, which students were expected to copy over and over. These were the copybook headings.

"We were living in trees when they met us," Kipling said of the Gods of the Copybook Headings. "They showed us each in turn that water would certainly wet us, as fire would certainly burn: But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind, so we left them to teach the gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind."

"All is not gold that glitters, and two and two make four," the Gods of the Copybook Headings tell us. But as in ages past, people would rather believe in a "brave new world" in which "all men are paid for existing, and no man must pay for his sins. …

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