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"Something else an academic education will do for you. If you go along with it any considerable distance, it'll begin to give you an idea what size mind you have. What it'll fit and, maybe, what it won't. After a while, you'll have an idea what kind of thoughts your particular size mind should be wearing. For one thing, it may save you an extraordinary amount of time trying on ideas that don't suit you, aren't becoming to you. You'll begin to know your true measurements and dress your mind accordingly." (24.65)
Mr. Antolini explains the difference between institutionalized education and knowledge. Holden has been struggling (perhaps implicitly) to do this for most of the novel—so why does he just yawn instead of going to bed? Is he just not receptive to help of any kind right now? Is this a lesson that’s going to take time to sink in?
"Among other things, you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You're by no means alone on that score, you'll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry." (24.60-62)
Get out your highlighters, Shmoopers, because this is key: Mr. Antolini is telling Holden that education is important because it’ll make him feel less alone. It’s like an online support group for depressed people, but in actual books and literature. We love this.
"I'm not trying to tell you," he said, "that only educated and scholarly men are able to contribute something valuable to the world. It's not so. But I do say that educated and scholarly men, if they're brilliant and creative to begin with – which, unfortunately, is rarely the case – tend to leave infinitely more valuable records behind them than men do who are merely brilliant and creative. They tend to express themselves more clearly, and they usually have a passion for following their thoughts through to the end. And – most important – nine times out of ten they have more humility than the unscholarly thinker. Do you follow me at all?" (24.62)
We’re not sure, but we have a suspicion that this is pretty close to Salinger's perspective. Mr. Antolini does seem to have a genuine love for his students (if possibly an inappropriate one…) and a genuine respect for learning. He doesn’t berate Holden; he talks to him like an equal.