Ralph Waldo Emerson

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"This is the perpetual romance of new life, the invasion of god into the old dead world..." What does the "this" refer to, and what is Emerson trying to say through this metaphor in his essay on education?

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Emerson subscribed to a new theory of education: he and other transcendentalists did not believe that the child is simply an empty vessel to be filled up with facts and figures; rather, the child's individual nature, preferences, and personal abilities should be coaxed out and developed. This is what education ought to be. He says that one must identify the child's personal genius and then drill the child in that area. Find what inspires the child, identify what they are good at—be it politics, math, or music—and then cultivate that interest.

"This," he says, "is the perpetual romance of new life, the invasion of God into the old dead world." This new person, with their very own, singular and individual nature, is the "This" in the quotation. Emerson compares the child, with their nature and unique predilections, to an "invasion of God into the old dead world" via metaphor. When the child is born into a family, the child's new, uncorrupted, and individual nature is representative of the future; the "old, dead world" is represented by the child's parents and grandparents. Their ideas have already been tried, or are being tried now, but the child's ideas and particular brand of genius is something new, wonderful, and unknown, just as God is an unknown to us. Within the child is unlimited potential, ready to unfold if handled properly and allowed to develop organically.

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