The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh Education
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"So for a week Christopher Robin read that sort of book at the North end of Pooh" (Winnie-the-Pooh.2.73)
The important thing here is the accompanying illustration showing CR reading an alphabet book to Pooh. At the beginning of the tales, Christopher Robin is in the very beginning stages of his learning, and being educated is as much about playing the part as actually knowing the information. While the text, which represents the way the stories unfold in CR's imagination, tells us that he's "reading", the illustration shows us the reality of what that means. He's merely sharing an early reader exercise book. Clever.
"Owl was telling Kanga an Interesting Anecdote full of long words like Encyclopedia and Rhododendron to which Kanga wasn't listening." (Winnie-the-Pooh.8.107)
Owl is recognized as the most learned character in the Forest. Unfortunately, no one really cares or understands him. They're impressed by his vocabulary, his claims to be able to read (even though we know he can't, really), but when it comes down to it, there are more important things than just erudition (look it up).
"'Owl hasn't exactly got Brain, but he Knows Things. He would know the Right Thing to Do when Surrounded by Water. There's Rabbit. He hasn't Learnt in Books, but he can always Think of a Clever Plan.'" (Winnie-the-Pooh.9.6)
Here, Milne articulates the difference between street smarts and book smarts. In the world of the Forest, at least, clever plans and practical common sense are at least as valuable.
"When Pooh saw what it was, he nearly fell down, he was so pleased. It was a Special Pencil Case." (Winnie-the-Pooh.10.61)
At the same time that he satirizes formal education, Milne also values it. When Pooh gets this gift from Christopher Robin, he's the envy of all the Forest. Why are pencils so awesome? Well, it's easy to say that pencils are a nifty representation of literacy and education in general. By giving him pencils, CR gives Pooh the tools he needs to read and write. That's an enormous gift, and all the animals recognize it.
"Do you know what A means, little Piglet?" / "No, Eeyore, I don't." / "It means Learning, it means Education, it means all the things that you and Pooh haven't got. That's what A means." (House.5.101-103)
Even though Eeyore is being kind of a jerk, we have to admit that he's right. Without knowing the things that "A" represents, the characters in the book are destined to stay in the Forest. There's no growing up for them, no maturity, no responsibility. While there are of course scary things about these words, Milne would be the first to tell you how great it can be to Achieve Awesome and Amazing Accomplishments.
"What's this that I'm looking at?" said Eeyore, still looking at it.
"Three sticks," said Rabbit promptly. (House.5.110-111)
Of course, to take Eeyore down a peg, Milne can't help but show how arbitrary his symbol for education actually is. When you get down to the nitty-gritty of it, A <em>is</em> just three lines. It has no meaning in itself, until we assign one to it. That's a pretty heavy-duty philosophical statement, if you think about it.
The word "lesson" came back to Pooh as one he heard before somewhere.
"There's a thing called Twy-stymes," he said. "Christopher Robin tried to teach it to me once, but it didn't." (House.7.11-12)
Pooh and Christopher Robin are no longer in the same stage in life. It's a sweet moment when CR tries to pull Pooh along with him by teaching him some good old fashioned multiplication, but it just won't work. Oh, bother.
"Rabbit has Brain."
There was a long silence.
"I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything." (House.8.16-18)
Think about it. But not too much. In a world where you can understand everything by watching the river flow peacefully beneath you, over-thinking can lead to a whole lot of misunderstanding.
Suddenly Christopher Robin began to tell Pooh about some of the things: People called Kings and Queens and something called Factors, and a place called Europe, and an island in the middle of the sea where no ships came, and how you make a Suction Pump (if you want to), and when Knights were Knighted, and what comes from Brazil. (House.10.40)
This is Milne's abridged version of what school teaches you. Our favorite part is the inclusion of how to build a suction pump, if you want to. Who would want to? What purpose does this serve for daily life? But the most important thing is that Milne is showing us that Christopher Robin <em>enjoys</em> having all this new information. He wants to share it with Pooh. He wants to teach it (see above).
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