Jacques Barzun: Extended Quotes from “Begin Here”

Wow! A huge page full of excerpts from Barzun! If you’ve not yet discovered him, please do. Such clear thinking and writing is rare. Everything he ever wrote is worthwhile, I’m sure.

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Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning
Jacques Barzun -1991
ISBN 0-226-03846-7
Dewey # 371.102 B296

Forget EDUCATION. Education is a result, a slow growth, and hard to judge. Let us talk rather about Teaching and Learning, a joint activity that can be provided for, though as a nation we have lost the knack of it. The blame falls on the public schools, of course, but they deserve only half the blame. The other half belongs to the people at large, us, — our attitudes, our choices, our thought-cliches.

Take one familiar fact: everybody keeps calling for Excellence — excellence not just in schooling, throughout society. But as soon as somebody or something stands out as Excellent, the other shout goes up: “Elitism!” And whatever produced that thing, whoever praises that result, is promptly put down. “Standing out” is undemocratic.

This common response is a national choice, certified by a poll: we have a self-declared “Education president.” Good. But what happened soon after he took office? His popularity rating went up when it was discovered that he was less articulate on his feet. One commentator said in a resigned tone, “It’s not pretty, but it works.” It works only because of our real attitude toward “excellence” — we won’t have it.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions
of Teaching and Learning, pg 5

In the name of progress and method, innovation and statistical research, educationists have persuaded the world that teaching is a set of complex problems to be solved. It is no such thing. It is a series of difficulties. They recur endlessly and have to be met; there is no solution — which means also that there is no mystery. Teaching is an art, and an art, though it has a variety of practical devices to choose from, cannot be reduced to a science.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted
in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 5

Our liberties are safe until the memories and experiences of the past are blotted out . . . and our public school system has fallen into decay.
–Woodrow Wilson, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 6

[…] in the new ambulant university, what might have been fresh and engrossing was presented in its least engaging form, that of the specialists: not Anthropology as a distinctive way of looking at peoples and nations, with examples of general import, but accumulated detail about a tribe the instructor had lived with — and apparently could not get away from. At best, the announced “introductory course” did not introduce the subject but tried to make recruits for advanced work in the field.
This attitude no doubt showed dedication of a sort. It was easier to bear, perhaps, than the indifference of other professors who, in the name of discussion method, let the students “exchange ideas” without guidance or correction — each class hour a rap session. But in none of these forms could the exercise be called undergraduate teaching; and its parallel in graduate school was equally stultifying to the many who in those years went on, hoping against hope, to obtain higher learning from
institutions claiming the title.


The violent rebels against boredom and neglect, make-believe and the hunt for credentials never made clear their best reasons, nor did they bring the university back to its senses; the uprising did not abate specialism or restore competence and respect to teaching. The flight from campus did cease, but that was owning to the drying up of federal money and the foundations’ partial retreat from a world salvation by academic means. What the upheaval left was disarray shot through with the
adversary spirit. It expressed itself in written rules arrived at by struggle and compromise, through committees and representative bodies set up as the arena of divergent needs and claims. Student, faculties, and administrators tried to rebuild in their own special interest the institution they had wrecked cooperatively. But, alas, the duty to teach well cannot be legislated.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 10/11

[…] we have but ruins barely concealed by ivy. For students, not the monastic life, but a shabby degradation of the former luxury; not the scholastic life, either, but a tacitly lowered standard, by which instructors maintain their popularity rating on the annual student evaluation, and the students thereby ensure the needed grades in the credentials game. For the faculty, salaries dropping faster under the inflation that also raises the cost of operation and tuition. For the
administration, nothing but the harried life among demands, protest, and regulations. To expect “educational leadership” from men and women so circumstanced would be a cruel joke.

The manifest decline is heartbreakingly sad, but it is what we have chosen to make it, in higher learning as well as in our public schools. There instead of trying to develop native intelligence and give it good techniques in the basic arts of man, we professed to make ideal citizens, supertolerant neighbors, agents of world peace, and happy family folk, at once sexually adept and flawless drivers of cars. In the upshot, a working system has been brought to a state of impotence. Good
teachers are cramped or stymied in their efforts, while the public pays more and more for less and less. The failure to be sober in action and purpose, to do well what can actually be done, has turned a scene of fruitful activity into spectacle of defeat, shame, and despair.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 13

[…] the system must create — not by force and not by bribes — some measure of common understanding and common action in the teeth of endless diversity. A government deals mainly with divergent wills, a school with divergent minds. Both try to generate motive power by proposing desirable goals. But all these elements are fluid, shifting, barely conscious, mixed with distracting, irrelevant forces and interests. And just as there are few statesmen or good politicians who can govern, so
there are few true teachers and no multitude of passable ones.

[…]

And yet we cannot do without teaching — or governing. We see right now all around us the menace of the untaught — the menace to themselves and to us, which amounts to saying that they are unselfgovernable and therefore ungovernable. There is unfortunately no method or gimmick that will replace teaching. We have seen the failure of one touted method after another. Teaching will not change; it is a hand-to-hand, face-to-face encounter. There is no help for it — we must teach and we must
learn, each for himself and herself, using words and and working at the perennial Difficulties.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 14/15

All the schemes profess to overcome a monumental deficiency: the young are not learning to read. The number of illiterates is climbing toward a majority of the population and at this rate we shall soon be back at the early ages of literacy, when only a small caste could read and write — a true elite, and thus able to govern the rest.

The general anxiety is fit retribution for the 50-year folly of the look-and-say method method of teaching reading, coupled with the assumption that the children of the poor, the black, and the Hispanics cannot learn. Being “disadvantaged” is now thought to be an insurmountable bar to learning.

That is criminal nonsense. All children can learn and do learn. By the time they first go to school they have learned an enormous amount, including a foreign language, since no language is native to the womb. So if they stop learning when in school, it must be because the desire to learn is killed by protracted non-achievement and non-teaching. It is true that there may be extraneous causes, such as undernourishment or mental defect, but these have long been noticed and taken account of.

For the normal and healthy, it is the very character of the school that seems to stop learning, and this at a point of no great difficulty: simple reading, writing, and arithmetic. The fifth grade is for many too many the stopping place.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 16/17

The desire, the “motivation,” as jargon has it, was there, stifled by a state of mind which, if not created, had at least not been counteracted by the school itself. The unwritten law was: to show desire or ability to learn lowers one in the other fellow’s regard. But the urge was there all along, nourished in secret and ready to burst out in private.

So taking as something native or family-inspired the resistance of the disadvantaged is a culpable error. A teacher must believe in the capacity of those he is teaching; it is defeatism to start out with the opposite assumption. If resistance continues, then the student’s assumption that learning is beneath their dignity, sissified, must be met head on. The school must be assembled, the issue discussed, and the consequences explained until the attitude is turned inside out and the
deliberate non-learner ceases to be a hero for bucking the system.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 17

Children want to know how. Teaching helps to learn how when able people teach. But they must be allowed to do it, with guidance and encouragement from outside. Teaching is a demanding, often back-breaking job; it should not be done with the energy left over after meetings and pointless paperwork have drained hope and faith in the enterprise. Accountability, the latest cure in vogue, is to be looked for only in results. Good teaching is usually well-known to all concerned without
questionnaires or approved lesson plans. The number of good teachers who are now shackled by bureaucratic obligations to superiors who know little or nothing about the classroom cannot even be guessed at. The deserve from the Education President an Emancipation Proclamation.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 19

When good teachers perform and pupils learn, the sense of accomplishment produces a momentum that lightens the toil for both. Discipline is easier to maintain and failures become exceptions instead of the rule. As a further result there is no need for the fiddling and innovating, the “crash programs,” all with more special funding and still more reports and evaluations and assessments. Since millions go chiefly into new bureaus, new manuals full of “guidelines,” and new textbooks that make
only the publishers happy, the saving can be great. The taxpayers themselves benefit from a school that works.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 19

Anybody who has ever taught knows that the act of teaching depends upon the teacher’s instantaneous and intuitive vision of the pupil’s mind as it gropes and fumbles to grasp a new idea.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 20

Whether this movement toward analphabetism can be reversed is what no one can predict. But before leaving the subject, it may be useful to mention the cultural forces that encouraged and still maintain the hostility to reading, to the alphabet, to the word.

The first is the emotion of scientism, which for seventy-five years has preferred numbers to words, doing to thinking, and experiment to tradition. This perversion of true science led to calling “experiment” almost any deviation from common ways of teaching. That it took half a century to begin admitting the error of look-and-say (through another “study,” not through daily evidence of failure) shows the extent to which science has turned into superstition.

Second, the last phase of liberalism which by 1910 had proclaimed everybody’s emancipation, including the child’s, took the form of total egalitarianism. Everybody was, by democratic fiat, right and just in all his actions; he was doing the best he could; he was human; we knew this by his errors. It therefore became wrong to correct a child, to press him, push him, show him how to do better. Dialectal speech and grammatical blunders were natural and, as such, sacred; the linguists proved it
by basing a profession on dogma. Literature was a trivial surface phenomenon, the pastime of a doomed elite: why read books, why read, why teach the alphabet?

Third, the extension of free, public, compulsory education to all and in increasing amount (the high school dates from 1900) soon exhausted the natural supply of teachers. They had to be manufactured in large numbers, out of refractory material which could be more easily prepared in the virtues of the heart and the techniques of play than in any intellectual discipline. Themselves uneducated and often illiterate (see James Koerner’s various reports [The Miseducation of American Teachers]),
they infallibly transmitted their inadequacies, turning schoolwork into make-believe and boring their pupils into violence and scurrility.

Fourth and last, the conquest of the public imagination by the arts, by “art as a way of life,” has reinforced the natural resistance of the mind to ordinary logic, order, and precision — without replacing these with any strong dose of artistic logic, order, and precision. The arts have simply given universal warrant for the offbeat, the unintelligible, the defiant without purpose. The schools have soaked up this heady brew. Anything new, obscure, implausible, self-willed is worth trying
out, is an educational experiment. It has the aura of both science and art.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 26/27

[…] no principles, however true, are any good when they are misunderstood or stupidly applied. Nothing is right by virtue of its results. A stifling tradition is bad and a “great” tradition is good. Innovation that brings improvement is what we all desire; innovation that impoverishes the mind and the chances of life is damnable.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 27

Above all institutions, the school is designed for only one thing — fruits. But nowadays we despise the very word cultivation. Unweeded soil undoubtedly grows wondrous things that nobody can predict. Such things we have in abundance, but it would be a rash man who would call it a harvest.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 27

It cannot be too often repeated that reading, writing, speaking, and thinking are not four distinct powers but four modes of one power. That last word is diagnostic: it means able to do at will. If instead of always using that jargon like word “skills,” school people used the word power, they might judge the result of their teaching more concretely. They would see that passing a fill-in test in English composition means nothing if the passer is powerless — not able — to write ten
clear lines of prose. They would see further that something ought to be done for the student whose score on the test, again, was passing, but who cannot put together and utter the right words to make himself understood orally.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 29

The truth is, when all is said and done, one does not teach a subject, one teaches a student how to learn it.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 35

Each individual must cure his or her own ignorance. Accordingly, all sound educational theory enjoins individual attention.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 36

To bring back essay examinations would call for reviving the lost art of framing and grading questions. Every question ought to elicit knowledge of a unified portion of the subject covered and bring out what the teaching has aimed at over and above the factual underpinnings. To frame such question and make them fair, precise, fully relevant is not an art the unpractised teacher can improvise. Good teachers learn how to compose an examination by recalling their own best experience in
college and by consulting and imitating their elders in the department.

These same aspects of question-making enter into the case against multiple-choice testing. Thirty years ago [1962 –MN], the late physicist and mathematician Banesh Hoffman, wrote a book entitled The Tyranny of Testing, which was attacked by the test-making and ignored by educationists. What it showed by examples over a wide range of subjects was how the multiple-choice questions in use, by their form and contents, worked against the aims of good teaching. Leaving to one side the
errors of fact and misleading wordings that he came across in sample tests, he found that this mode of testing suppresses the natural diversity of minds, penalizes the more imaginative, and perpetuates conventional opinions. The students who handle multiple choices best are not the best, but second best.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 36/37

It will be another Grand Abstraction masquerading as a competent judgment.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 40

If, as estimated, many children spend thirty hours a week in front of the screen and neglect homework (supposing they are given any), it is because parents are indifferent or feel powerless, but also because they have no clear idea what a school can and should do. They are, after all, the products of that same, ineffectual, incoherent schooling.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 41

The title of my remarks refers to a familiar question: is television harming children in their schooling? The answer is obviously yes if the screen keeps children from doing homework. But so would any other abuse of working time — playing in the yard or reading comic books. All these are questions for parents. The deeper question is whether television by its nature disables learning.

It looks to me as if it did, because its formula is: Discontinuity. An expert has said that the image on the screen must change every 18 seconds, if not sooner. Indeed, the “sound bite” — uninterrupted speech — has gone down from 42.3 seconds in 1968 to 9.8 seconds in 1987. Program directors and producers, I am told, think according to a “doctrine of moments.” We might ask, what makes them act this way? In answer, I would venture the paradox that our jittery television is as it is
because of influence from the schools.

This influence has been both direct and indirect. The direct influence is that the men and women who work in television are products of the schools and what they produce shows how their minds work. The indirect influence is that of the audience. They too have come out of the common school, and if they get bored regularly at 17 1/2 seconds, they are no doubt reproducing the character of their schooling.

What entitles me to say this? Simply that during the last 50 years, nearly everything in school has tended toward the discontinuous, the incoherent, the jiggly.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 41/42

In the schools, psychology has tended to substitute therapy for teaching and made the explanation of failure more important than its correction. Indeed, it even disallowed correction as humiliating.

Meanwhile, it petrified the parents through report cards in jargon that was incomprehensible because meaningless. Worst of all, it committed the grave fault of making children self-conscious. One of the virtues of learning anything is that it takes one out of oneself and into a subject — something independent existing out there, in the world of fact or ideas, or both. To pull the mind back into self-concern and self-excuse is not a hindrance to learning, it is also a deprivation of the
feeling of community with others. A subject understood in common with other people is a social bond, and of a kind most desirable in a democracy. So again, by separating little egos and by taking attention away from the subject of self, one more agent of discontinuity was introduced into the classroom. It was morally culpable besides, for children as they grow up have enough internal causes of self-consciousness and enough difficulty in coping with it.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in
Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 44

[…] we may say that educational nonsense consists in proposing or promoting something other than the prime object of the school, which is the removal of ignorance.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 54

Applying these standards, we can perhaps see where the current supply of educational nonsense does not come from.

It does not come from the quite imaginary storehouse of folly called Romanticism. It does not come from the writings of Rousseau or the teachings of William James or John Dewey. This is not to say that the purveyors of contemporary nonsense do not invoke those authorities and precedents, or that they do not borrow from the men and the movement I have cited. But these borrowings are trivial or mistaken and prove nothing; if we do not want to engage in nonsense ourselves, we must refrain
from attributing the vulgar errors of today to thinkers beside whom our would-be theorists are but broken echoes.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 54

For 3,000 years children have been taught to read by sounding letters, one at a time, and taught to write by copying models; surely we can do better than that? But in fact there is no cruder model of judging than that which asks: is it new? The cult of the new has generated a mirage, in which we have arisen all the schemes greeted with hope and forgotten in failure.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 58

How much simpler a good course in history. Without any preaching, it shows that there are no pure races or pure cultures; all owe something to the others as far back as the invention of the alphabet, the Arabic numerals, and the stone axe still further. History is the best remover of provincialism and egotism.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 66

Strange as it may seem, it is a fact of nature that there are more born poets than born teachers. But the world’s work cannot depend on genius; it must make do with talent, that is to say, fair material properly trained.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 96

The result of half a century or more of this world-reforming attitude may be seen in the language in which educationist think and talk. […] Its characteristics are: abstraction instead of direct naming; exaggeration of goals and results; seeing the student not as an individual but as an example of some psychological generality; taking any indirect means in place of the straight one; and finally: mistaking words for facts, and intentions for hard work.

Such is the educationist mind everywhere.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 96/97

The educationist spirit is that of bureaucracy — marks on paper take precedence over reality — and bureaucracy is incontrovertible.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 97

Pedagogy is not a beautiful word, but it sticks to the point of teaching. It denotes the art of leading a child to knowledge, whereas education properly refers to a completed development, or the whole tendency of the mind toward it. A person is taught by a teacher but educates him- or herself, partly by will, partly by assimilating experience. The educator’s egotistical urge to blur this distinction is at the root of our present predicament. Thinking that we can “give an education,” we
make wild claims and promises and forget to teach what is teachable. Babbling incessantly, we grope toward the remote, ill-defined, unattainable goals that fill our blatant advertising.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 105

Again, if art is to “humanize schooling” are we admitting that the rest of the curriculum is inhuman? Art as an antidote to schooling means we first poison the young and then make them cough up the dose with an elective.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 107

Language and literacy refer to words and nothing else. The metaphor that applies them to artistic matters is false and misleading; it destroys the case for art, whose rightful claim to special merit is that it is a mode of thought without words, in-articulate, sui generis. This mania for misnaming, this love of fog is infectious and I regret to add that one of the best writers on our subject is led by it to suggest that the goal of a good education in art should be: “how to create,
confront, and criticize works of art”; that is to say, give evidence of a triple power that only a few geniuses in each generation can be said to possess.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 108

We must sober up; give up getting drunk on hope and verbiage; stop writing committee reports, guidelines, objectives. Mimeographed paper is the hard drug of the educational world. All those words ending in -tion and -ive are narcotics that break down the mind permanently. There do not have to be eighteen reasons to justify art in the school. One is enough. Let it be put this way: “Art is an important part of our culture. It corresponds to a deep inner instinct in man;
hence it is enjoyable. We therefore teach its rudiments.”
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 109

But good or bad, my suggestion does not tell you what to do, and without some indicated path you can hardly muster new courage and strength for the real work I keep referring to. True, yet I am confident that many of you already have implicit answers to the question, What to do? and I am sure that when you are liberated from present theoretical shackles, the result will be better than what has been. Even so, I should like to recommend to both the self-assured and the hesitant that they
start with an act which our crowded lives rarely permit — to think. To think, not with the aid of books or articles or studies, but nakedly, with the bare mind; and again, to think not lofty thoughts in big words, as if for publication, but think plainly and privately; don’t get up on a ladder but think like Richard II when he said: “For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings.” Sit on the ground and tell yourself what you know — what you know about
art, about teaching, about people young and old.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 110

All this, you may say, is academic stuff. How do we teach the children to be original, innovative? You don’t; you can’t. Originality is not teachable. Academic is what teaching ought to be in an academy.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 112

How is “real book” defined? Quite simply: it is a book one wants to reread. It can stand rereading because it is very full — of ideas and feelings, of scenes and persons real or imagined, of strange accidents and situations and judgments of behavior: it is a world in itself, like and unlike the world already in our head. For this reason, this fullness, it may well be “hard to get into.” But it somehow compels one to keep turning the page, and at the end the wish to reread is clear and
strong: one senses that the work contains more than met the eye the first time around.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 115

The first gain for writing in well-taught reading is an enlarged vocabulary. The second is the perception that arrangement controls meaning. The third comes from familiarity with correct idiom and connotation. Both speech and writing are ultimately copy-cat performances — wordings get in through the ear or the eye and come out at the tongue or the end of the pencil. So it is sensible to make the source of unconscious expression the best available.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin
Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 116

The conscious effort aims at self-criticism. Since nobody can write an acceptable first draft, good writing is always rewriting. And to rewrite or revise, one must have, on top of word consciousness, a bag of tricks for making repairs. Some may wonder: “If the books read for ‘composition’ are these good books that are read for ‘literature,’ isn’t the writing going to be stilted, old-fashioned, ridiculous? Today, no good writer writes like Lincoln or Thoreau or even Mark Twain. Better take
more recent models.” This usually means Catcher In The Rye, with which the boys and girls so readily “identify.”
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 116

It takes no imagination to feel at home in contemporary books, hence the language they use remains transparent — not there as such. As for students writing sentences like the classic models, never fear! They do not think like Lincoln or Thoreau; they do not become poets after reading Shakespeare. What they absorb and make use of are the good strong words and idioms, the clear structures, and the ways to link ideas. These are the eternal elements of good writing.

–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 116

One great void in writing instruction everywhere is that it does not show how one begins. The assumption is that given a topic, the child will quickly summon up the ideas, after which the words flow. Not so: he or she desperately casts about for a first sentence and then hopes for the best. If told to being by making an outline, the pupil is even more bewildered as to what to make with it.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning,
, pg 116/117

[…] the teacher of writing should also see to it that student speak as far as possible in complete and grammatical sentences. Not only is this helpful in business and the White House, it is a powerful aid to writing well with the least amount of revision: habit, habit, habit born of practice is the key to clear expression; and it is obviously absurd to demand “simple and direct” on paper and neglect the same in speech. That both demands are spurs to clear thinking is a free dividend.

–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 118

At the same time as the monitoring of speech goes on, firmly but kindly, so as not to hurt young sensibilities, enunciation can be attended to — clear vowels as well as clear thoughts. The value of this incidental training is not small. The modern world calls for tens of thousands of people whose job is to make announcements at microphones all day long. Very few do it well. They mumble or drop their voices at the end of the sentence, which carries the important information; they call
out an unusual name as briskly as if it were plain Jones or Smith; they speak at the same rate of speed as in face-to-face conversation, never suspecting that a crowd of people cannot hear properly unless, “addressed,” and not merely spoken to. As in bad writing, these faults betray thoughtless disregard of the party at the receiving end. Good speech, like good writing, is a form of civility.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning,
, pg 118/119

Plainly, to read, and what to read, are questions that take one pretty far. This is due to the nature of the mind, where thought, word, and utterance form an endless chain. The school has apparently forgotten the connection and dropped the last link. The result is a second set of illiterates — the non-writers. For although in one sense Americans read a great deal […], they have delegated writing to specialists — the professionals whom we call Writers and those others, in advertising
and public relations, who have come to be known, not surprisingly, as the “creative department.”
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 119

[…] literature as I use it here does not mean only books destined for greatness, future classics, though some may be. That does not matter now. Literature has many mansions; the lesser genres have merit and keep their readers over centuries. The literary art can be found in a crime story by Dorothy Sayers, a ghost story by M.R. James, a farce by Courteline, or a poem by Ogden Nash. The seasoned reader allows himself a balanced diet and moves easily through the categories from Sophocles
to Mr. Dooley, finding in each of them the literary thrill — the thrill of good words skillfully joined — on top of the wisdom of tragedy or the wisdom of humor.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 125/126

And what of reading-matter for the young — their textbooks and fun books? Bad or good influence begins there. Modern textbooks have long had a low rating; so low that McGuffey’s Readers have been brought back into print, a kind of shaming operation. A competent observer calls the textbook in use today “a disgrace. Badly written, factually sloppy, supremely boring, these books go a long way to undermining the very essence of education, a student’s yearning to know more, to grow
through reading.”
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 126
[Quotation from David H. Lynn in Basic Education, Sep. 1989 -MN]

But of course most children do not read either the books or the magazines written for their entertainment; their only idea of reading comes from schoolbooks thrust upon them in grade after grade; so that the dread of reading, the loathing for things in hard covers is well inculcated. No wonder that in addition to our army of functional illiterates there is a corps of experienced anti-illiterates. What can the Reading Recovery Project possibly do to save these minds in time? What motive
would an intelligent child have to recover such reading?
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 126

The current obscurantism which attacks the Western tradition with the zeal of censorship, comes not from those supposedly unrepresented in the curriculum, but from academics and other intellectuals who are represented and hate their own heritage. This rejection follows two parallel lines, one political, one social. Because American institutions fail to live up to their own (Western) ideals, this country is detestable — an unmitigated disaster. Therefore All that led up to it must be
abhorred and discarded. Columbus is stigmatized. The white peoples are “the cancer of the human race.” The young must be taught ideas and ideals produced anywhere but in the West. What is wanted is decolonization of the intellect.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 129

[…] the provincialism of the West is a myth. It is the West, and not the East, that has penetrated into all parts of the globe. It is only the West that has studied, translated, and disseminated the thoughts, the histories, and the works of art of other civilizations, living and dead. By now, the formerly shut-in peoples do take an interest in others, but this recent development is an imitation of Western models. By good and bad means, Western ideas have imprinted themselves on the rest
of the world, and one result is that cultural exchange and mutual instruction are at last consciously international; this, just at the time when we are told to repudiate our achievements and consign our best thoughts to oblivion.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 131

In my youth, Dickens was still read in high school, but leading critics thought him an inferior novelist. He has made a comeback, thanks to a few critics, followed by most, but not all, of the others. The main body is made up of sheep, led by a shepherd and a barking dog.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 135

But why, after all, learn to read differently by tackling the classics? The answer is simple: in order to live in a wider world. Wider than [w]hat? Wider than one that comes through the routine of our material lives and through the paper and the factual magazines — Psychology Today, House and Garden, Sports Illustrated; wider also than friend’s and neighbor’s plans and gossip; wider especially than one’s business or profession. For nothing is more narrowing than one’s own shop,
and it grows ever more so as one bends the mind and energies to succeed. This is particularly true today, when each profession has become a cluster of specialties continually subdividing. A lawyer is not a jurist, he is a tax lawyer, or a dab hand at trusts and estates. The work itself is a struggle with a mass of jargon, conventions, and numbers that have no meaning outside the specialty. The whole modern world moves among systems and abstractions superimposed on reality, a vast
make-believe, thought is results are real enough in one’s life if one does not know and follow these ever-shifting rules of the game.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 136

The great works do not yield their cargo on demand. But if one reads them with concentration (for one “reads” works of art, too), the effort gives us possession of a vast store of vicarious experience; we come fact to face with the whole range of perception that mankind has attained and that is denied by our unavoidably artificial existence. Through this experience we escape from the prison cell, professional or business or suburban. It is like gaining a second life. Dr. Johnson, who was
not given to exaggeration, said that the difference between a lettered man and an unlettered man is the difference between the living and the dead.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 136

The need for a body of common knowledge and common references does not disappear when a society is largely pluralistic, as ours [the U.S.] has become. On the contrary, it grows more necessary, so that people of different origins and occupation may quickly and find familiar ground and, as we say, speak a common language. It not only saves time and embarrassment, but it also ensures a kind of mutual confidence and good will. One is not addressing an alien blank as a stone wall, but a
responsive creature whose mind is filled with the same images, memories, and vocabulary as oneself. Since the Biblical source of those common elements can no longer be relied on, the other classics, the secular scriptures, remain the one means of creating a community of minds, a culture — indeed, a society in the original sense of the word, which is: a group of companions.

Otherwise, with the unstoppable march of specialization, the individual mind is doomed to solitude and the individual heart to drying up.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 140

You cannot make humanists by courses about the humanities; they must be courses in the humanities, taught by humanists.

In the humanist mode there are no barriers between ideas, there is no jargon, no prevailing theory or method. There are books and readers, as on the first day of publication.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 146

No doubt there are dangers in this free realm as in every other. It is easy to talk nonsense and make false connections. But the reward of reading with a humanistic eye is not in doubt: it is pleasure, renewable at will. That pleasure is the ultimate use of the classics.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 146

[…] it is always time to stop repeating the wise sayings and begin to believe them.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 146

It is but fair to add that part of the distaste for teaching is a result of the student’s lack of preparation. They are bright and willing, they have ideas, but they seem to know nothing firmly and nothing alike. Many, far too many, cannot read, write, count, think, or talk acceptably. Remedial courses take care of the worst; the rest, unrewarding to deal with, are ignored or else helped along by some philanthropic instructor in one or another subject, who left-handedly tries to patch up
the failures of the past.

For these failures the high academic profession must bear a large part of the blame. For generations the proud professors have refused to have anything to do with elementary and secondary schooling — except to criticize it on their own hearthrug. They scorn mere teachers without knowing any; they do not review textbooks below the freshman level; they despise — instead of reforming — the department of education in their own university. In other countries all recognize that teaching has
equal importa nce and merit at every rung of the ladder. The most highly trained scholars begin by teaching in the lycee or gymnasium or the English “public” or “grammar” schools.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 152/153
[Continued to quotation below -MN]

In the United States, college and university are undergoing the fitting punishment of their snobbish neglect: all the ills of the lower schools have infected the higher — bureaucratic rules and paperwork; students incapable and beyond rescue, but promoted yearly; a curriculum without plan or direction; subject matter dictated by politics or current events. Tailored to youthful tastes, such courses lack order and substance — invertebrate data in place of “disciplines.” Around these
attractions the campus re-creates the whole of society: unions and strikes, protests, insults, violence, mandess, and the agencies needed to cope with these diversions. There must be a small army of security guards, a corps of psychiatrists and counsellors, facilities for free artistic productions, a supply of contraceptive information and devices, and housing and subsidies for political and ethnic separatism.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of
Teaching and Learning, pg 153

All things considered, I tend to think that the nearest equivalent to what the university is becoming is the medieval guild, which undertook to do everything for the town. It dictated commercial fair play; it dispensed charity to the poor, sick and aged; it gave feasts and plays and religious processions; it supported and supervised schooling, kept up roads and bridges, bargained with the overlords, and helped govern the borough. It also designed and repaired the town walls and manned them
in wartime. This all-mothering activity is what made it the central institution of the town, the natural focus of the civic emotions, as well as the refuge of the afflicted.

So, when I hear the modern appeals to the university, appeals for immediate, direct public service to the community, appeals from undeveloped countries for talent, for exchanges of books and knowledge, appeals from government bureaus for experts and consultants on ever-longer leases — maybe I should leashes — appeals from newspapers, radio networks, business concerns, and citizens at large; for advice, for information, for free tuition, for advanced seminars, and for choice artistic
performances at no cost, I detect in all these requests not so much an expression of natural greed as a pathetic desire for light and love. The only thing the guild used to provide that we do not is Masses for the dead, and if we do not it is because we are not asked.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 157

The liberal outlook is no hidden secret; it is the outlook of the man who is free, because he does not toil for his living, because his responsibilities are his own choice, and because he can waste time in the pursuit of objects that only he values and understands. Few institutions have come near this kind of freedom. The old, inefficient, absent-minded, bumbling university of the nineteenth century and early twentieth occasionally approached these specifications, and it may still be argued
that the products and by-products were not worth the expense. But is our turning it upside down and endways-to any better? All we can say now is that the best part of that tradition looks like a possible antidote to our acute self-poisoning by a deadly mixture of practicality and idealism.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 157

[…] then the other great mistake of “publish or perish” will have to be reversed. The newly made Ph.D. must no longer be forced to “produce” soon and abundantly so as to “get on the tenure track.” The present intolerable (and immoral) pressure on the young teacher has “produced” only an appalling amount of pointless papers — junk research, to go with the junk mail and junk bonds: things multiplied without heed to quality.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten
Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 164

Good work takes time, not alone for reflection but also for non-purposive reading. To go to the library and work up a topic in cold blood does not yield lasting scholarship; it lacks the awareness of where the portion of novelty fits into the larger field. As for great work, it is always written out of knowledge that goes miles beyond the subject on all sides.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 165

When according to one famous report, the quality of a school is said to have nothing to do with how well the students learn, it is time to turn to other authorities.

These others may be known by their language; they write intelligibly.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 167

In the workaday world it is clear that most of what is offered as research is secondhand and dubious. The magazine researchers find one reference and think a fact or judgment confirmed. Opinion research is continually shown up by its results. Gallup gives one figure, Harris another. And in the stream of reports about divorce, disease, and diet, about education, ecology, economics, and government, indeed about all subjects of practical concern, the chaos is permanent and daunting.
One could write a novel of adventure with Cholesterol as the hero, now pictured as the villain, now innocent unless provoked.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 170
[Continued to quotation below -MN]

It is safe to say that the steady stream of “studies” does not really add to the public’s knowledge. One report cancels another; details do not stick in the mind; and interests is too often around by what goes against common sense. Thus the National Institute on Aging has found that having sympathetic friends and relatives at times of grief may be harmful. Solitary widows fare as well or better. Should the world, enlightened on this point, considerately neglect the afflicted? What is
certain is that findings may harm the many who interpret them as absolute and universal. The researchers who studied the chances of marriage for women who postponed it in a good cause heard cries of anger and despair as if they had passed a law on the subject. All these studies rely on correlations, and some on the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 170

A worse by-product of modern inflation is that it defeats the very purpose of compulsory scholarship: that purpose was to engineer the growth of knowledge by having as many trained workers as possible add their little brick to the edifice. The outcome in fact is that the torrent of books and papers steadily increases the unlikelihood of any synthesis. Plowing through the mass of reports lengthens the task while it confuses the mind. Minutiae come to look important because they occupy
space.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 172

The first amendment protects equally the wise man and the fool — quite rightly, for some apparent fools turn out to be wise. The only applicable force is that of public opinion.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 174

To be sure, the use of common sense as defined entails a risk, but there is no remedy without risk, and a desirable side effect would follow. I mean an increased resistance to the rhetoric of fact and the rhetoric of number. We have been so conditioned by genuine science to the mere statement, “these are the facts, these are the numbers,” that like Pavlov’s dogs we submit without question, often in the teeth of contrary evidence.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The
Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 176

This is the sign of the peculiar democracy. It works by verbal onslaught and physical disruption, the small group coercing the large community into submission. And naturally, assault begets retaliation in an endless round. This is often called the politicizing of higher education. That term is much too good for what has happened. Politics is a normal endeavor, rough of smooth, to obtain a tangible result for a public of private end. What is bing witnessed on campuses from Dartmouth to
Berkely is faction and feuding for intangibles and abstractions. What gets satisfied is malice, vanity, revenge, and kindred feelings. The Montagus and Capulets were at least paying each other back for the death of relatives. In the universities today the printed or posted attacks, the vandalism, the protests and counterprotests, the demand for resignations, the sit-ins and strikes are caused partly by academic measures and fees that students dislike, but more often by group slurs, tasteless
jokes, or imputed inequality of treatment — outcroppings of Chauvinism, male and female, black and white, sex type A and sex type B. It is a Balkan campus with border incidents, not party politics.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 178

There are not sixteen ways of running a college or university. Except for interesting but inessential variations, there are only three, and not all three yield to the same extent the conditions favorable to study.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 182

Reading of course can easily be nothing more than a way to kill time; but if it is calculated and intense, it is a steady extension of one’s life. If life is measured by consciousness, one whose mind is full lives longer than one whose mind is empty — just as one who is awake 18 hours a day lives longer than who sleeps almost 12 hours. You can add to live by adding to the quantity of conscious moments through reading. This is true no matter what you read — history, poetry, novels,
essays, letters, diaries, memoirs, criticism. One curious result of the habit is that after a time, even the reading of trash — (in short, the reading that kills time) — even that brings with it some addition of value, because the mind is equipped to extract some good thing or other from the low-grade substance.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 199/200

There are in the United States at least 57 elites, and they are not playing their part: they are not ruining the country. They should be undermining our democratic way of life as predicted by the horrified who shout “Elitism!” But apparently the bugbear has no teeth; it is only a menace; it does no more than keep the watchdogs hoarse.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 203

If a writer modestly pretends that he does not consider himself an educated person, then what business does he have to be writing on the subject? And if he does allow that he is educated then he is suspected of talking down to those less favored than he.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 208

Modern society is not geared to produce, receive, or respect “the educated mind,” and it is hard to imagine anyone in his senses claiming the title as an honor. The term is in fact seldom used. “High-brow” has replaced it, and since the new word conveys good-natured contempt, everyone does his best to prove that is own brow is attractively low — a thin line of common sense between two hairy hedges denoting common-man-ness. One’s intellect or habit of self-cultivation is something to hide
or live down, and this is true even though more and more people are being schooled and colleged, and educationed than ever before.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 208/209

In truth, all the purposes and achievements of the 20th Century conspire, at least for the time being, to blot out the meaning of culture. Looked at globally, today’s task is to “educate” the peoples of the earth to mass production and national independence. In this effort the world’s work and the world’s wealth are now being redistributed among nations, classes, and persons, and vast layers of mankind are now emerging from ancestral poverty and a sense of wrong. It is a mighty spectacle
and one that the high-brow should not scorn, for the ideals techniques which are at work come straight out of our past culture in the high-brow sense — out of the thoughts and books of educated minds, from Jefferson to Bernard Shaw. But it is also true that the pace and scale of this grand transformation take the heaviest toll on those best fitted to carry on the work of culture itself. Peace of mind, solitude, long stretches of concentration, have become luxuries almost beyond reach. We
express this every inadequately by saying that we are “frightfully busy right now.” Deep down we know that the condition is permanent for all those who cannot afford the blessed release of a nervous breakdown.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 209

We can understand hobbies even those involving information, lore, books; but we tend to fear scholarly studies. Why? Simply because pursuing self-education is a reproach to the non-educated, who feel shame or envy or both. Until the day of the free schools, this shame did not exist. One could always plead that the opportunity to educate oneself had been denied. But now the heart of the common man is torn between desire and disgust because the word has gone out that anyone who applies
himself can and should acquire an education.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 210

To resent not being educated is particularly absurd when one considers that education, like virtue, is its own reward, nothing more — nothing, certainly to brag about. Indeed one test of a true education is that it sits lightly on the possessor. He knows better than anybody else how thin in spots is the mantle that others would pluck from him.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 211

Even politics has lost its intellectual content and has become undiscussable except with hand grenade. The effort to avoid misunderstandings and offense reduces the pleasure to zero. One feels as if one were walking on eggs inside one’s brain. In short, talking seriously is as rude as making private allusions which only the members of the family understand.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 211/212

The well-read have not read everything, but after a while — as somebody said very wittily — you begin to know things ex officio.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 212

For the young who have gone to a seat of learning and taken their studies seriously, the force of our society act as a barrier to further self-education. At college they probably absorbed just enough to waken their mind and spur its quest for more learning. It is after college that these young people are stymied. The girl, now married, has no help and is too busy in kitchen and nursery to read a book. The man, now saddled early with family responsibilities in a competitive world, must by
tireless slaving make good in the first ten years of his career. By taking work home every night he proves to his employers that he cares for nothing in the world but insurance or law or the prospects of natural gas. It remains a mystery how the world’s work got done in the old days when college-trained beginners in business worked only from 9 to 5 and were not deemed traitors if they were seen at a concert.

Today, the junior executive, it may be said, learns more about the nature of his job and its interconnections with the world economy. But what he bones up on during those career-building nights is only part real knowledge. The rest is artificial verbiage and statistics, like so much that we are now compelled to carry in our heads — initials, trade names, and telephone numbers — bushels of incoherent facts that are out of date almost before they are learned. Inevitably this essential
rubbish soon overlays anything the young man or woman learned to enjoy in college. At the end of a long day that never shuts down on business, he or she cannot attend to that other world of which a glimpse was given in the classroom, the laboratory, or the art gallery. And thus, by a queer turn of the wheel, our present equalizing of social and economic rights, which should create a larger sense of community, actually drives people apart by narrowing the content of their minds.
–Jacques
Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 214

For mavericks, however, there is no good alternative to boredom or despair except the pleasure of making life a means to education. Young men and women continue to be born with an insatiable desire to know, and among these not all are bent on knowing the things that are negotiable. These marked souls manage somehow, in spite of all they see around them, to make themselves into educated persons. They show a remarkable power to survive unfavorable environments, such as advertising agencies,
movie studios, and teacher’s colleges. But the oddest thing about them is that without any clear guidance from society at large, and in the teeth of all the commands of the day, they all develop very much the same interests and rediscover for themselves the original humanities. Literature, philosophy and the arts, religion, political theory and history become the staples on which they feed their minds.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and
Learning, pg 215

Alone though they may be much of the time, they are not so much to be pitied as the sociable creatures who must have “people around” or a movie to go to. For the educated person has appropriated so much of other men’s minds that he can live on his store like the camel his reservoir. Everything can become grist to his mill, including his own misery — if he is miserable — for by association with what he knows, everything he enjoys or endures has echoes and meanings and suggestions ad
infinitum. This is in fact the test and the use of a human being’s education, that he finds pleasure in the exercise of his mind.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 216
[Continued to quotation below -MN]

Pascal once said that all the trouble in the world was due to the fact that man could not sit still in a room. He must hunt, flirt, gamble, chatter. That is man’s destiny and it is not to be quarreled with, but the educated man has through the ages found a way to convert passionate activity into silent and motionless pleasure. He can sit in a room and not perish.
–Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 216

(Return to Quotations Files Index)

Jacques Barzun Quotations From Random Sources

Communication is most complete when it proceeds from the smallest number of words — and indeed of syllables.
–Jacques Barzun

Hollywood films reach all parts of the country, indeed travel to the ends of the earth, and thus seem to express all human kind. But that is an illusion. A large part of the output expresses chiefly the “carnality and brutality” that many object to; the rating system to protect the young makes it plain that “the people” do not see their hopes and fears mirrored on the screen. A segment of the public avoids the lust and mayhem and looks for the sophisticated work of the artist-producer,
native or foreign.

Since, we are told, a commercial film must aim at the mind of the thirteen-year-old, the failure to produce films for adults endowed with common sense about what matters to them is anti-populism. they patronize the movies and tolerate, often with disgust, the routine offerings, but they are in fact under-nourished by it, and their best selves remain unexpressed.
–Jacques Barzun, The Tenth Muse, reprinted in The Best American Essays 2002, pg 3/4

For my part, however is a forbidden word, the sign of a weakness in thought. I use it once in a great while, when I cannot get rid of neighboring but’s and do not want to add one more.
–Jacques Barzun, Simple and Direct

Let us face a pluralistic world in which there are no universal churches, no single remedy for all diseases, no one way to teach or write or sing, no magic diet, no world poets, and no chosen races, but only the wretched and wonderfully diversified human race.
–Jacques Barzun, professor and writer (1907- )

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