How is the cow?

At West Point, back in the day, anyway, we had a shitload of "poop" we had to learn, memorize actually, by heart, and be able to regurgitate it any time, usually with our necks back, and sometimes at the top of our voices.

It was a beautiful and instructive form of hazing, of course, and I still have my Bugle Notes '79, all 320 pages of it, and sponsored by, among others, Mama Leone's Ristorante and SeaBreeze Travel Agency, sitting on my desk as I write this.

Rote memorization is hard. Really, really hard. And unlike "meaningful or associative learning," "spaced repetition," or "active" learning, whatever that means, you can't fake knowing the definition of leather. Either you can repeat that passage back perfectly when asked, or recite a speech or belt out a fight song word for word, or you can't.

Sidebar note: did you know The Star Spangled Banner has a second verse? I do. Here, I'll sing it for you...

Seriously, the upperclassmen, or officer(s) in some cases, also had to know the poop by heart too; otherwise how would they know when you screwed a word up?

In my experience, true knowledge consists of only two things: facts and inductive reasoning. Data untethered by discernment and context is almost always dangerous since it can be manipulated to mean anything; judgement without a mastery of the time-proven cultural, historical, and literary fundamentals is often if not always fashionably shallow, expedient, easy, or so misguided and wrong I don't even know where to start.

Let's get back to a time when learning the greats like Homer, Virgil, and Augustine, and the many more almost-greats too, by heart, was SOP. Not only are the "classics" relevant and poetic, but they're transcendent. It's impossible to overestimate the impact of the wisdom of the words these smart men and women wrote on the whole of human history and on us today.

The aforementioned Bugle Notes was my nemesis for the whole beancrot year, not because it wasn't a fabulous lesson in duty, honor, and country, but because I was a lazy, fatuous imbecile. And it kicked my recalcitrant ass into some semblance of conduct becoming of a cadet, and the small price I paid was only a coupla hundred hours walking the area, and only sometimes in the fuhreezing rain and gloom-period snow.

Which brings Shakespeare to mind, and I quote Sonnet 29:

"When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,I all alone beweep my outcast state..."

Make the trivium a requirement in all public schools immediately: grammar, rhetoric, and logic. Design the curriculum to be rigorous and demanding, and settle for nothing less than excellence. All the time. Notebooks and fountain pens. Longhand.

Mind. Spine. Guts. Heart.

No excuses, sir.

And I guarantee half the problems of America, if not the world, will be solved.


You can plow through a lot more of our wonderful wiseacreage here.

November 28, 2023 — Johnny Mustard