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That Trick Never Works October 31, 2010

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.

I wasn’t particularly well-educated in my formative years.  My public school system was geared toward producing the next-generation steelworker and housewife (sexist but true).  Most teachers tried, but largely because of the culture and low expectations, education was pretty rudimentary.

(My school district acquired Federal funds that were readily available after Sputnik for science education, and used a good chunk of those funds to attach a state-of-the-art planetarium and space observatory to a brand new high school building.  Those facilities were never used, and fell into disrepair almost immediately.  By the time I got there, no one even remembered their purpose anymore.)

What my town did have was a Carnegie Public Library.  When I was old enough to drive, I spent my afternoons there, reading what seemed to be interesting, and inadvertently educating myself in the process.

I mention this as prelude to note the passing of Alexander Anderson Jr., the cartoon artist who created Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Bullwinkle the Moose.  This simple cartoon had an outsize influence on my upbringing.

My world at the time was small, revolving entirely around that tiny slice of southwestern Pennsylvania best known for steel mills, coal mines, dairy farms, and an occasional wildcat oil well (as well as the occasional sports figure).  It is little exaggeration to say that much of what I learned of history, classics, and the world in general (Frostbite Falls, Minnesota notwithstanding), I learned from Rocky and Bullwinkle, the Fractured Fairy Tales, and Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman, along with their WABAC Machine, now immortalized on the Internet as the Wayback Machine.

Before the Carnegie Public Library, and later other education experiences as an adult, Rocky and Bullwinkle gave me clues (often fractured, disjoint, and just plain hilarious) of the larger world, remembered fondly to this day.



1. Steve - November 1, 2010

I’m currently reading Andrew Carnegie’s autobiography, so your mention of the CPL is quite timely for me. I was actually discussing this idea this afternoon: that ‘education’ in the formal sense provides a base level of knowledge, but the small sparks that build real intelligence come from odd sources that sometimes can’t be predicted. In my case (hardly unique, though), Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” inspired a love of reading (and writing) as I read fantasy novels and wrote my own short stories, drew maps, invented ‘languages’ and so on. It’s amazing how well things like hobbits and Bullwinkle – outside the formal education system – can encourage young minds.

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