"A little learning is a dangerous thing"1984 might seem like a peculiar opening to Pope's "Essay on Criticism," but I couldn't figure out another way to get it out on the table. Surely...

"A little learning is a dangerous thing"

1984 might seem like a peculiar opening to Pope's "Essay on Criticism," but I couldn't figure out another way to get it out on the table. Surely there is some connection in terms of a wise citizenry protecting itself from the sort of tyranny that redefines reality....At any rate, here are some lines from Part 2 of "Essay"

"A little learning is a dangerous thing;/Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring./ There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,/ and drinking largely sobers us again...."

Does our society still value this 18thC view of knowledge or do we think that "a little learning" is very valuable, if for no other reason that it gives us something to chat about at cocktail parties.

Asked on by sagetrieb

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e-martin's profile pic

e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

The West might believe a bit too strongly in its own status as an "educated" culture. I don't know just how far I'd go with this point or how much I believe it to be truly descriptive of our society, but it seems that we may have abandoned humility and a belief in the virtues of expertise because we all believe we are well educated. We're all experts.

I don't want to be partisan or overly political in my response here, but I think that thebest example of the dangers of "some learning but not enough" are presented in what passes for our "political forums" today, namely, cable "news" channels.

It is in these venues where we witness educated people espousing ideas that appeal to the un-educated or under-educated in our population, because the ideas expressed are plausible (but not necessarily factual). As a population we're smart enough to know what's possible, but we may not be smart enough to know what's real. The socratic doubt as to how much we really understand (and how it is wise to realize in humility how much we don't) has apparently vanished.

We believe what we hear, ironically, because we think we're smart enough to know the truth when we hear it. This is the hubris which characterizes Pope's statement: a little learning is a dangerous thing.

The rampant spin in the public and political arenas can be easily related to 1984 and may offer a good response to the initial question here: Do we think that there is a danger in trusting our learning so much that we ignore our ignorace?

clane's profile pic

clane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

I think the value of learning has been greatly diminished in our society and it's sad. In my experience with students, they want to learn just enough to get by, but they really have no thirst for knowledge and very little desire to think for themselves. They want someone to tell them what to do and how to think and it's scary because that's what they got in 1984. I find that my students prefer to be "drunk," if you were, with stupidity rather than be "sober" by drinking from the fountain of knowledge! It makes me worry about the future of this country resting in the hands of generations who just don't care as long as they don't have to do anything or think too hard about something. I hope that my experience is limited to what's actually out there!

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