Two more quotes for the summer: Robbert Dijkgraaf and Erri de Luca

31 Jul

Summer holiday is over, yet to keep the mood going I like to get back to my blog the same way I took leave from it a couple of weeks ago, with two more quotes.

What might a Dutch mathematical physicist and an Italian writer have in common with each other? Apart from their being one of the most distinguished professors and researchers at the University I’m working at (and lately appointed Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton), and one of my favourite contemporary writers? And apart from their Dutch respectively Italian texts challenging my translation skills? It is the topic both Dijkgraaf and De Luca comment on in two writings I have lately read.

The topic being education, & educators and students, & the (social) importance and sheer beauty of it all. A topic, by the way, which was crucial also to the congress that colleague Janneke Staaks and I attended in June in Newcastle, Great Expectations: what do students want and how do we deliver? (want to read more, albeit in Dutch? Look at our report on UBA-e, the news blog for UvA and HvA-library staff). As for the quotes:

Robbert Dijkgraaf, from his column Drie kwartier, published in the UvA-Hva students’ weekly Folia on June 14th.

«I received comments on how extraordinary it was that I could keep up speaking for exactly 45 minutes. Indeed, in an age of soundbites lasting some seconds and of quick quotes in the news, all those minutes do seem like an eternity, easy to get lost in. Yet, wait a moment. Television is not the only place where speeches are given. Some hundred thousand teachers teach every day. They all speak 45 minutes, more times a day. They have been doing this for years. Every teacher knows exactly when the time will be over and that by then his speech will need to come to a natural end. It is this tension that determines the success of a lesson. It is a sign of the times that we forget these daily achievements in education. A milion students daily attend several ‘live’ lectures and this in secundary education alone. These are high ratings!».

Erri de Luca, from page 125 of his novel Il giorno prima della felicità (whose English translation, by the Other Press, I had no opportunity to consult).

«At school I listened carefully to the lessons. I realized how important the things were that I was learning. It was beautiful that a man came placing them in front of a group of young people, who were sitting in a mood of listening, of grasping things immediately. Beautiful, a classroom to stay to learn. Beautiful, the oxygen binding with blood and carrying that same blood, and the words, deep into the body. Beautiful, the names of the moons around Jupiter, beautiful the cry “Sea, sea” of the Greeks at the end of their retreat, beautiful Xenophon’s act of writing down that cry, to prevent its disappearing. And beautiful Pliny’s story as well, over Vesuvius explosion. Those writings absorbed tragedies, transformed them in narrative substance, to convey and therefore overcome them. Light entered the head as it entered the classroom. Outside it was a shiny day, like May ending up in the pack of December. I headed back home still thinking about the lessons. There was a civilized generosity in public schools, free, allowing someone like me to learn. I had grown within it and hadn’t noticed the effort of a community to accomplish the task. Education gave importance to us, the poor. The rich would educate themselves anyway. School gave weight to those not having it, it made equality. It did not suppress misery, yet among its walls it allowed parity. Disparity began outside.»

Photo’s: Robbert Dijkgraaf from the site of the UvA-Institute for Theoretical Physics , Erri de Luca from wikipedia.


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