Sunday, April 18, 2010

Leacock and Ph Ds

I don't know about you, but when I get a notion to find something in one of my books, I often end up taking detours. I started out to read some from a college Logic textbook and thought I'd pull my encyclopedia for a bit of an overview.

I have this habit of strolling, on the way to whatever I'm looking up. So, I'm going through the "L"s, and I read about Lawrence of Arabia, lamination, and law, and then I come to rest on Stephen Leacock, the author.

I had read his biography of Charles Dickens years ago, but I'd never known the other sorts of writing he did. Leacock, as it turns out, was widely known for his humor. Now, engaging the speed of the web, I end up reading some of his writing hosted by the Gutenberg Project, "Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town." In the Preface, Leacock describes his experiences growing up and pursuing his education.

The quote I share at the end of this post is not hillarious in itself, but it struck me that way because of how it corresponded to my dad's experiences with "educated" people. He received a BA in English and Psychology, then started law school. His progress was interrupted by volunteering to go fight in World War II. Afterward, supporting a family took precedence over further schooling. He finally completed a law degree in his 50th year. For many years between his military and law careers, he worked in the aerospace industry and was constantly rubbing elbows (and probably worse) with Ph D's.

 My dad, himself, was also a rather opinionated person, so his characterization of these people was often unflattering. He complained that their advanced degree had convinced them that they knew more than that actually did. Although they had merely read and been examined in a single, narrow field, they somehow became all-knowing in most every field. It frustrated the dickens out of him, since he was a self-professed "jack-of-all-trades and master of none." You can imagine, then, how I would love to share the following quote with my dad, if he were still here. I got a huge chuckle from it.

"In 1899 I gave up school teaching in disgust, borrowing enough money to live upon for a few months, and went to the University of Chicago to study economics and political science. I was soon appointed to a Fellowship in political economy, and by means of this and some temporary employment by McGill University, I survived until I took the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in 1903. The meaning of this degree is that the recipient of instruction is examined for the last time in his life, and is pronounced completely full. After this, no new ideas can be imparted to him." – Stephen Leacock, "Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town"

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