Education reform quiz

Guess the century, the decade, and the author of the quote below. Hint: it is from the little-known second volume of a well-known Russian novel. Only a draft of the second volume remains. I will give more hints in the comments section as necessary.

Something strange happened with the studies themselves. New teachers were hired, with new opinions, new angles, and new points of view. They hurled a multitude of new terms and words at the listeners; their presentations had logical coherence and personal fervor, but alas! their science itself lacked life. Their dead science seemed like carrion on their tongues. In a word, everything was turned inside out. There was no more respect for the leadership or for authority; they began to laugh at the mentors and teachers. The director came to be called ‘Old Ted,’ ‘Crusty,’ and various other names. It went far beyond child’s play: things reached a point where many had to be expelled and removed. In two years the school was no longer recognizable.


  1. Dead Souls

  2. Oh, sorry– Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol, 1840s?

  3. Diana Senechal says:

    Congratulations. That is correct!

    He wrote the second part in 1840-1841, then burned it a few weeks before his death in 1852.

  4. Good quiz.

  5. I like the line, “Their dead science seemed like carrion on their tongues.” This is exactly how I feel when I hear ed jargon and ed cliches coming out of administrators’ and true believers’ mouths. Blech.

  6. Phillip Gonring says:

    This was really fun and perhaps should be a regular post. I was reminded of a passage I first read in a history course, my senior year in college, the same year I was going through teacher education courses. Can anyone guess the author of these gems (yes, education has come a long way):

    They would surely be the most unfortunate and wretched class of men and the one most hateful to the gods if I didn’t mitigate the hardships of their miserable profession by a pleasant kind of madness. For they’re exposed not merely to the ‘five curses’, that is, the five calamities mentioned in the Greek epigram, but to six hundred, always famished and dirty as they are amidst their hordes of boys in their schools; though what I call schools should rather be their ‘thinking-shop’, or better still, their treadmill and torture chamber. There they grow old with toil and deaf with the clamour, wasting away in the stench and filth. Yet, thanks to me, in their own eyes they are first among men, and enjoy considerable satisfaction when they terrify the trembling crowd with threatening voice and looks, thrashing their wretched pupils with cane, birch, and strap, venting their fury in any way they please like the famous ass of Cumae. Meanwhile the squalor they live in is sheer elegance to them, the stink smells sweet as marjoram, and their pitiful servitude seems like sovereignty, so that they wouldn’t change their tyranny for all the power of Phalaris or Dionysius.

    Yet they get even more happiness out of their remarkable belief in their own learning. There they are, most of them filling boys’ heads with arrant nonsense, but setting themselves above any Palaemon or Donatus! And by some sort of confidence-trick they do remarkably well at persuading foolish mothers and ignorant fathers to accept them at their own valuation. Then there’s this further type of pleasure. Whenever one of them digs out of some mouldy manuscript the name of Anchises’ mother or some trivial word the ordinary man doesn’t know, such as neatherd, tergiversator, cutpurse, or if anyone unearths a scrap of old stone with a fragmentary inscription, 0 Jupiter, what a triumph! What rejoicing, what eulogies! They might have conquered Africa or captured Babylon. And again, when they keep on bringing out their feeble verses, their own hopeless efforts, and frod no lack of admirers, of course they believe the spirit of Virgil is reborn in themselves. But the funniest thing of all is when there’s an exchange of compliments and appreciation, a mutual back-scratching. Yet if someone else slips up on a single word and his sharper-eyed fellow happens to pounce on it, ‘Hercules’, what dramas, what fights to the death, accusations, and abuse! The whole world of grammarians may turn on me if I lie.

    ‘I know one ‘jack-of-all-trades’, scholar of Greek and Latin, mathematician, philosopher, doctor, all in princely style, a man already in his sixties, who has thrown up everything else and spent twenty years vexing and tormenting himself over grammar. He supposes he’d be perfectly happy if he were allowed to live long enough to define precisely how the eight parts of speech should be distinguished, something in which no one writing in Greek or Latin has ever managed to be entirely successful. And then if anyone treats a conjunction as a word with the force of an adverb, it’s a thing to go to war about. To this end, though there are as many grammars as grammarians—or rather, more, since my friend Aldus alone has brought out more than five—there isn’t one, however ignorantly or tediously written, which our man will pass over without scrutinizing it from cover to cover. Nor is there anyone, however inept his efforts in this field, who won’t arouse his jealousy, for he’s pitiably afraid that someone will win the prize before him, and that all his labours of so many years will be wasted. Would you rather call this madness or folly? It doesn’t really make much difference to me, as long as you admit that it’s entirely due to me that a creature who’d otherwise be quite the most unfortunate can be carried away to such a pitch of happiness that he wouldn’t want to change places with the kings of Persia.

  7. Diana Senechal says:

    I cheated and looked it up, so I know the answer–but I will leave it to someone else to guess. Thank you for this excellent passage! Now I want to read the whole thing.