Phil the Clever

For Isaac Newton it was a vivid experience which set into motion a train of thought which would change the world.

An apple fell to the ground.

It was an everyday event which might happen in front of you or me, which sent his mind reeling into a vortex of questions which made our world a clearer place.

William Stukeley recalled talking with Newton in his memoirs of Newton’s life: “Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground,” thought he to him self: occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in a comtemplative mood.

“Why should it not go sideways, or upwards, but constantly to the earths centre? Assuredly, the reason is, that the earth draws it. there must be a drawing power in matter. ”

Newton’s experience of the world led to learning, the like of which the rest of us can only daydream.

It was American educationalist of the twentieth century David Kolb who coined the term experiential learning.

Everything starts with first hand experience of the world, Kolb says.  We watch carefully and think on what has happened, before doing something to test our thoughts. The results come in the result of a whole new set of experiences, and the cycle begins again.

This afternoon, at three o clock precisely, my good husband becomes a postgraduate of all cleverness; a holder of a certificate of considerable brain. He must wear a mortar board, and one of those voluminous black gowns, and go to Kingston to become accredited.

For a year, Phil was unavailable for much of Sunday, studying and writing and rewriting and swatting. For a year I proof read essays and brought endless cups of tea as hypotheses were tweaked.

It has been a long haul and we are all very proud of Postgraduate Phil. He has embarked on a hallowed path which began back in the 11th or 12th centuries, when the mediaeval universities were born.

The Christian cathedral schools grew and changed into universities: and back then it was no mere year of study to reach postgraduate status. Six years, it took, to study a broad range of disciplines:  arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music theory, grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

Only then was one permitted to specialise. You could be a lawyer, a doctor or a cleric. All professions which would lead to a lifetime of practice. A Doctor might work out of a university, but he would still heal the sick. The academic research informed ruthlessly practical professions.

But how is a simple soul -say, a scarecrow – to find true learning?

The search for brains is a well documented one, set down as it was by L Frank Baum. The book concerned  four friends, one of whom was obsessed with the quest for intelligence.

But on closer inspection he did not want simply to be smart: but to be perceived as smart by others.

The Wizard told him he already had them, but it was not what the Scarecrow wanted to hear.

“You don’t need brains,” Oz told the scarecrow; “You are learning something every day. A baby has brains, but doesn’t know much. Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on earth the more experience you are sure to get.”

For thousands of years, we have been sending our cleverest men to university to get brains: to equip themselves with what we call expertise. But if Oz is right, the moment of qualification is not an end, but a beginning.

An intriguing thought if you happen to have lived life backwards.

TH White’s Merlin is a wizard who has done just that, with a very long life indeed.

He epitomises this lifelong fascination with experiences and reflection. By the time we meet the Wizard he has witnessed half an eternity. and has drawn myriad conclusions from his wild and wonderful experiences.

He has watched the natural world and learned to live alongside it. His upper room is packed with the trappings of a millennium, from cigarette cards to a life-size crocodile. His mind, ever charismatic, has been experiencing and reflecting for a very long time.

And it is with reflection that the jigsaw pieces fit together. Never let it be said that Merlin does not know the whole picture.

Learning: it’s a lifelong business, and it goes in ever-increasing circles like ripples on a pond. With one sweep of a pike’s tail we begin to ask questions which might end up in a hushed library, or at the end of a fishing line.

So while Phil The Clever may collect his piece of paper tomorrow, he will maintain the steepest of learning curves.

Just for the very joy of learning.


63 thoughts on “Phil the Clever

  1. Congratulations, Phil! Well done!

    Kate, I suspect that education should be based more on teaching us what questions to ask besides teaching us the answers. The former requires brains, but the latter just requires memory.

  2. First, congratulations to Phil for quite an accomplishment and the first step to an ongoing life of thought.
    Love this snippet from your post.
    “Learning: it’s a lifelong business, and it goes in ever-increasing circles like ripples on a pond.”

    We each must take forward steps each day, both in gaining knowledge and in doing a little good, that is how we advance civilization.

  3. Bravo, Phil…bravo, Kate, for beside every degreed man there is a patient, intelligent wife.

    I had a quote by MLK Jr yesterday on the library’s Facebook page. I’m on phone so cannot link, but the sentiment is much as the wizard states with a tweak, adding character as the other measure of true education.

    I’ve no doubt you both fit his ideology of an educated person ~

  4. Three cheers for Phil. Well done!

    I think we succeed in this fluid business of education when we encourage children to grow and become life-long learners, NOT excellent test takers. Phil, and his lovely wife Kate, get it. Good for Phil and good for you and remember that this becomes yet another bar of achievement for Maddie and Felix.

    1. Thank you Penny 🙂 What incredibly encouraging words! You have precied the dilemma of all real educationalists there: I would rather throw out testing and learn for the love of it. But hey: our government is quite sure testing is a one stop shop to monitoring schools’ improvement. When politicians get hold of education: run away!

  5. Congratulations, Phil! Kate, you must be so proud.

    You said, “the moment of qualification is not an end, but a beginning.” Indeed. I’ve always thought one’s formal education is not so much rote learning as it is learning to learn. I also believe that in education lies the solution to virtually all the world’s problems.

    1. You are absolutely right, PT. Research is utterly absorbing. Learning to question and investigate: it’s the most important lesson of life. And yes: perhaps it begins at university or even before, if one has a gifted teacher.

  6. Wonderful! Congratulations to Phil, it is quite an accomplishment – and no doubt you and the children will be happy to see him again of a Sunday… Er, perhaps it’s your turn now? 😀

  7. Many felicitations to Phil for meeting this milestone, and to you and the family for supporting him. Next time we get together – whenever that may be – we will treat you to celebrate. 🙂

    We’re on the same wavelength today. We both have endings as beginnings themes.

    1. Andra, we look forward to celebrating one of these days 🙂 I shall be over: life has been a bit horrid over the last 48 hours and I have not got over to see you. Will be there shortly!

  8. Congratulations to Phil 🙂 I got 2/3rds of the way through an OU science degree but stopped when my wife was unwell and never got back in harness again. I can visualise the amount of effort he has put in and the commitment required from you all as a family.

    As you started with Sir Isaac, can I recommend the book ‘Isaac Newton the Last Sorcerer’ by Michael White – it’s a fascinating insight into Newton and his life and times. If ever there was a flawed genius… Have a read, I’m sure you will find it interesting 🙂

    1. Thanks Martin, must chase that one up. Questioning must include sorties into places which might not bear fruit: Newton’s alchemy proccupation made me think of Merlin and his cluttered old room of memories

  9. Along the lines of, “he did not want simply to be smart: but to be perceived as smart by others.”, I’ll bet Hume and Kolb could debate the meritorious lengths of experience to numbing no end. (But then, I probably just screwed up the grammar/punctuation of that, so…)

    Congrats to Mr. Shrewsday! 😀

    1. Thanks, Brett: I’m sure you are right. I’d probably drown them out: I could go on and on and on….and the quality of the sentence is perfect. It said it better than I could 🙂 And thanks for those congratulations. I’ll pass them on!

  10. Warmest congratulations to the esteemed academic!

    *sigh* I suppose it is too much to hope for that he is now a Doctor of Phil-Oh-So-Fee? I bet you have had your Phil of him being buried in books, though!

    1. No Phil-oh-so-fee, I’m afraid, Col: the thoroughly modern discipline of Internal Communications.
      And yes. we will be Philling our days with fun and laughter instead of essays from now on 😀

      1. I didn’t think that was a modern discipline. ‘The hip bone connected to the … Thigh bone …’ goes way back! Or is it the type I’m so good at – arguing with myself?

  11. Well done, Phil. What did he study? Ad what next ? 🙂

    (My brother has just finished his degree with the Open University – four children later and the first at University herself! And now he’s playing with the idea of turning it into a masters. )

  12. Huge Congratulations to Phil and also to you all. Also agree about learning – finding questions from experiences and either developing or discarding them as exploration of answers.

  13. Well done Phil. It takes real grit to study from home like that.

    I know. (although not to such an advanced level!)

    Enjoy the graduation to the full.

  14. Speaking of “train of thought” . . . I just finished reading Martin’s blog about the train game, Why Is My Train Always Late? As I read, my train of thought focused on rushing over here to tell you about it (so you could share it with Phil The Clever)!

    Then I saw your comment and realized you’d saved me the trouble. 😉

    Choo Choo!

  15. Just adding my name to the long list of those celebrating with you. Fine accomplishment indeed! And one thing is for sure, higher education leads to further lifelong education. But I suspect that was already a fairly well-established Shrewsday trait! Debra

  16. Congratulations to Phil! A wonderful achievement, and only one of many steps on the fascinating raod to knowledge and wisdom! Thank goodness, for learning is what it’s all about…

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