Thinking Buddies

True education, in a famous 19th-century image, is as simple as a student on one end of a log and a teacher on the other. The line goes back to a student who became a US president, James Garfield, and his celebrated teacher, Mark Hopkins. It comes to mind because we want to get the amiably erudite governor of Massachusetts on one end of a log reaching to all the young people who think it's cool not to be caught learning in a dumbed-down 20th century.

The talk in Boston is that Gov. Bill Weld, state Senate President Thomas Birmingham, and House Speaker Thomas Finneran positively love learning and have fun challenging one another's intellect. It's even part of their weekly meetings as governmental leaders. One throws down the gauntlet of an uncommon word - a recent example was "struthian" (you could look it up) - and the two others have to use it in a speech or interview within 24 hours.

We think of a friend who spent her formative years in Britain. She didn't sulk when someone in the press used a word unfamiliar to her, she exulted in looking it up and being the richer.

When people at the top of their profession do this, we yearn for them not to keep it all within their usual circles. We know Mr. Weld is sport enough to make a point by diving fully clothed into the Charles River. Couldn't he and his thinking buddies take their delight in using their minds to schools that need a boost? Education-shy children might be kindled by the example of people in the public eye relishing the exercise of wit and the increase of knowledge. Or pupils might be invited to the State House to see the intellectual action on the spot.

With the best will in the world, political leaders can do only so much. Other grownups could try a little self-scrutiny to see if their example to the young is enjoyment of learning or belittling of it, rejecting it as elitism or embracing it as a natural thing for all.

Struthian: variant of struthious, meaning ostrichlike, characteristic of those who don't take their heads out of the sand to see how many other people learn more every day.

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