By Robert Littell, 1933
Glancing out of the window, I can see the subject–and eventual victim–of this inquiry, dangerously perched in the crotch of an old chestnut tree, about fifteen feet above the ground. Should I rush out and tell him to get down? Or should I let him be, hoping that he won’t climb any higher, or, if he does climb any higher, hoping that he will not fall?
It is probably all right, so I shall not bother him. Tree climbing is one of the things he has learned all by himself. There aren’t many things he will have the fun of learning all by himself. Most of the things he is going to learn will be hammered into him–Latin and history and grammar and mathematics up to the binomial theorem.
I’m not worried about this progress up the ladder from high school or boarding school to college and from college to law school or medical school. It seems incredible that the young biped now perched in the chestnut tree will someday, without stupendous effort on my part or on his, eventually graduate from college or even become a Ph.D.–but he will almost certainly. The strictly educational side of his life, once he gets his hands firmly on the lowest rung of that ancient ladder, will take care of itself.
What concerns me is something entirely different, a good deal more like tree climbing. I have never heard of a school or college that gave a course in tree climbing. And human life is full of useful accomplishments and rewarding experiences, like tree climbing–like making a speech, for example, or being able to take care of oneself on a camping trip: abilities that seem to me at least as valuable as a knowledge of conjugations and the dates of battles–perhaps (if one is to become a self-sufficient well-rounded human being) much more valuable. What are those abilities, skills, or accomplishments, those extra-curricular proficiencies that every man should have in order to be rounded and self-sufficient, and when can he acquire them, and how?