By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 7, 1937.
“What gets me,” said Jimmie Frise, “is the way everybody is so sure they are right nowadays.”
“True,” I admitted.
“And so sure everybody else is wrong,” pursued Jim.
“Aye,” I confessed.
“We’re perfectly sure, for instance,” said Jim, “that our form of government is the only possible thing for self-respecting people. Germany is perfectly sure her system is the only possible. Italy the same. Russia, the same, breaking her neck not only to believe it herself but to teach the whole world to see the light.”
“We’ve done a little neck-breaking, in the past,” I pointed out.
“It wasn’t so bad,” said Jim, “when we were the only nation showing others the glory of our particular kind of freedom. But nowadays, with every nation that isn’t defunct trying to stuff itself down the throat of all other nations, it’s getting a little tedious.”
“Tedious is the word,” I agreed.
“In former times,” said Jim, “we nations wed to fight over property. They’d quarrel over honor or something equally silly and practical. But now the nations are quarrelling over who’s got the best form of government. It’s childish.”
“You said it,” I assured him.
We were driving in the country and it is always best to agree with the man at the wheel. If you argue with him, he takes his eye off the road to turn and look at you.
“I blame education,” said Jim.
“The more you educate the people,” I said, “the more enlightened they become.”
“That was the theory,” declared Jimmie, “but it hasn’t panned out. It ought to be pretty evident now that you can’t change people’s ideas. They are born with their ideas, the same as they are born with their noses or the color of their hair.”
“Oh, come, come,” I said.
“All right,” cried Jim, “how do you explain the universal disagreement? For the past hundred years there has been an enormous and universal growth of education and enlightenment. Think of the vast expansion of publishing, until books and papers, billions in number, are like to bury mankind. Think of the movies and the radio in recent years, flooding the humblest places with facts and truth. Yet, instead of becoming gradually of one mind, we have never been of so many drastically different minds in human history. Not only donations disagree, but our provinces disagree, and we ourselves all disagree, until you can’t find two men in the whole world who think alike.”
“Ah,” I said, “education has set us free to think as we like.”
“No,” said Jim. “All education has done has been to give us self-confidence in our ignorance.”
“A fine opinion you have of yourself,” I suggested.
Nobody Changes His Mind
“Common sense and a casual glance at human history,” said Jim, “will show you that wise men are few and far between. Would there be one really wise man in every hundred men?”
“I hardly think so,” I admitted.
“Then,” said Jim, “ninety-nine of a hundred of us are ignorant.”
“Speak for yourself,” I stated.
“Yet,” said Jim, “education has taught us to read, write and talk. It has given us self-confidence. It has removed all doubt from our minds. However, as our beliefs and ideas are born in us, and can’t be changed any more than the shape of our noses, why, all we can do is give vent to these inherited notions.”
“I think for myself,” I declared.
“You think,” said Jim, “the way you were born to think. In former days, unless you had some special energy that made you stand out as a leader or thinker or firebrand, you kept silent. Your ignorance did not matter. But now, you need no special energy. You are forced to go to school, by law, until you are a competent blatherskite. If you are a little backward in expressing yourself, they put you in special classes, where your self-confidence is nourished by extra tuition. This has been going on now for about fifty years. The result is the universal cockeyed disagreement between nations, communities and finally individuals.”
“What do you suggest?” I inquired. “That we put an end to education?”
“I think everybody ought to be taught,” said Jim, “that they can’t help thinking what they think. It ought to be dinned into them, in the first book and the fourth book and in high school and at the university that the unfortunate notions they entertain cannot be altered by any process whatsoever, with this result, that we would all understand one another, at last.”
“It would fill us with contempt for one another,” I cried.
“And who else?” laughed Jim.
“Why, it’s an awful thought,” I protested.
“Think, now,” said Jim, “of all the people you have known, across the year, your family and friends, whom you have known since childhood, can you think of a single one, a single, solitary one of them who has ever really changed his mind?”
And across the years, I couldn’t. I marched them past my mind, one after another, my brothers – little fat boys and bold young soldiers and middle-aged business men; my friends – beloved chums, gay companions of my youth, comrades of my manhood, comfortable friends of my present life, and of them all, not one but was in the beginning what he is in the end; the same slants on life, the same ideas, notions, beliefs, subdued a little, maybe, or modified out of politeness of wisdom; but abandoned, never. Changed, never, thank God.
“Jim,” I said, “education is a good thing, even so. It points out to us a lot of things we wouldn’t perhaps have noticed in life, as we passed by.”
“Agreed,” said Jim, “but education is too proud. It ought to be humbler. It ought to wear the uniform of the spieler on a sightseeing bus. For that, in the end, is all it is.”
“A Nice Thing You’ve Done!”
We were driving through a very pleasant country full of ripening fields and bulging cattle and orchards already twinkling their fruit at us, and there was the first faint hint that in a few weeks the deep winds will be blowing all this away, all this green beauty that we think of as the permanence, and autumn, winter and spring only the impermanence.
Being in so pleasant a land to look upon, we were dawdling, so when a car with a voice like a ripsaw came from behind and, in a great swirl of gravel and dust, threw us to one side as it plunged past, our country humor was disturbed.
“The dang fool,” said Jim, recovering his control of the car, “where is he going at such a rate and what does it matter?”
Through the swirl of dust, we saw the stranger’s car lurch violently, swing to one side and then continue with increased fury, on its way.
And then just as we came to the place he had lurched, we saw a flock of geese scattering wildly up the ditches, and, on the side of the road a great fawn-colored gander, huge wings outspread, feebly flapping its last.
“Pull up, Jim,” I shouted. “A hit and run driver.”
Jim drew the car to a stop and we leaped out and ran back. The geese were making a great hissing and trumpeting, as they stood looking back at the great dead master. For now he flapped no more.
“What a magnificent bird,” I said, gazing down on him. “And Thanksgiving only a couple more fattening months away.”
“It must have been concussion,” said Jim, squatting down and touching the bird. “No signs of being smashed.”
“Hey,” came a shrill voice, and from a little farmhouse on the side, down the lane and out the gate came a fierce little woman.
“Let’s carry it into her,” said Jim.
So we picked the goose up by a leg each and started toward the house, like mourners.
But the little woman came, all hunched up with purpose, straight at us.
“Well,” she bit off, “a nice thing you’ve done.”
“Madam, we did…”
“That’s the prize gander,” stormed the little woman with a thin, penetrating voice, “at five fall fairs last year.”
“A car came past…” I began.
“And,” shouted the little woman huskily but raspingly, “it was going to bigger fairs this fall. That there gander…”
“We didn’t do it,” shouted Jim, unexpectedly.
“No, no, I suppose the gander hurled himself at your car,” screeched the little woman with a surprising reserve supply of voice. “I suppose you were travelling by at fifteen miles an hour when suddenly the gander just took a dislike to you and dashed his brain out against your car. I tell you, that gander was worth eight dollars if it was worth a cent. I been selling eggs sired by that gander for fifty cents apiece. Breeders from all over Ontario…”
“Madam,” I roared, still holding one of the feet of the poor gander. “I tell you we had nothing to do with it. We saw another…”
“Oho,” cackled the little woman with a break in her voice like those old stars of opera on the radio, “so I suppose it was some other car hit him and you just stopped to help the poor beast.”
“That’s it,” shouted Jim and I together.
“A likely story,” said the little woman witheringly. “A couple of gentlemen from the city passing along a country road see a gander brutally run over by another motorist and they stop to lend a friendly hand. Heh, heh, heh.”
“That’s precisely the case,” we both stated firmly.
The little woman was convulsed with mirth.
“You stand there,” she squealed, “trying to tell me that. We’ll see what the magistrate thinks.”
“Madam,” I announced loudly, “we are two humane men. When we saw the poor creature fluttering on the roadside, in the wake of a scoundrel who plunged by at fifty miles an hour…”
“I saw you,” hissed the little woman, crouching accusingly, “pick the bird up and start toward your car with it.”
“Madam,” we shouted, dropping the bird as if on a word of command.
When Education Doesn’t Help
“Oh, I’ve got your car number,” grated the little woman, and you’ll get a summons. And there’s been too much poultry killing in this county to suit the neighborhood. You’ll catch it.”
“We can prove we didn’t kill it,” I insisted.
“But you can’t prove,” cried the little woman triumphantly, “that when I came running out my door, you had stopped your car and picked the goose up.”
We stood gazing at one another heatedly. The poor beast lay at our feet in the dust.
“How much did you say the bird was worth?” demanded Jim.
“Eight dollars,” said the little woman firmly, “and I wouldn’t take a dollar less than four for him.”
Jim and I dug. Two dollars each.
“We keep the goose,” said Jim.
“If you want a run-over goose, you’re welcome,” said the little woman grimly.
She held the money in her hands, counting it two or three times. Jim and I picked the goose up by the feet and carried it, with dignity, to our car and laid it on the floor of the back.
“What’s the use,” demanded Jim, as he got behind the wheel, “of being humane? Why try to be decent? You’re always misunderstood.”
“Education wouldn’t help that situation we’ve just been through,” I sighed, as we got under way and bowled less observant through the country scene.
We heard a hard, thudding sound back of us. It was the gander.
“Jim,” I said sharply, “he’s come to.”
“Good,” said Jim, “we’ll sell him to some farmer down the road.”
Enormous flapping and scrambling sounds came from the back, then a fierce hiss, and my hat was kicked smartly over my eyes.
“Hey,” I ducked, “pull up the car.”
On the shoulder of the road, Jim and I leaped out, while the gander, fierce head erect, neck feathers swelling, hissed malevolently and flapped his immense wings helplessly around in the back of the open car.
“Open the door, let him out,” I ordered.
Jim opened the door and with a wild honk the gander leaped to the ditch and waddled furiously away toward the farm we could still see in the distance.
“Follow him,” I commanded. “Turn the car around and follow him.”
“To heck with him,” said Jim.
“He’s heading straight home,” I cried “Let’s get our money back.”
“To heck with him,” said Jim, but he got in and turned the car around and slowly and at a snail’s pace, we followed the silly bird back a mile. It waddled in the ditch and it took the fences; it paused and it sat down and rested; it turned its wicked eye on us if we got too close and simply stood its ground. I threw clods of sod at it to hurry it, and instead, it came back and attacked me, so losing twenty feet of good ground.
Finally, the weary and obese bird turned in its home lane, where with royal honks all its family welcomed it. We walked up to the farmhouse and rapped.
No answer. We went back to the barn and hallooed and howled and howled, but no sign of living person was to be seen. Across the fields, nobody moved.
“We’ll wait,” said I.
“So will she,” said Jim.
“I wouldn’t wonder,” I accused,” that gander was trained to play dead when cars go by. I wouldn’t wonder if she’s trained that bird to pretend to be hit…”
“What good does education do anybody?” said Jim, sadly.
“Well, I’ve got my own ideas,” I said.
“So has everybody,” sighed Jim, getting in the car and starting it. So I got in too and we went on our way.
Editor’s Note: This story was repeated on July 29, 1944 as “Getting Educated”. The bottom image is from that story.