A version of this essay appears in the Winter 2005 edition
of educational Horizons.
It was six men of Indostan
-- John Godfrey Saxe
In Days of Yorengore
In Oldentimes, back over in Oldcountry, it was much easier to choose. Back then the Club Manager told you what costume to wear. Even the Ax-wielders recognized the advantages of costume: it reduced resistance to their ministrations. Ordinary people came to recognize the advent of the Costumed Ax as a sign of their own shortcomings. If, when asked to adopt the Costume, you hemmed and hawed, you were visited by one of the Ax-Wielders and made an offer you couldn't refuse: be convinced or be minced.
And most people fell in line wearing the prescribed costume; surprisingly, not all too reluctantly. Rather, to make peace with Conscience, they talked themselves into believing that they accepted The Costume, not from fear of the Axe, but for Good Reason's sake. (And besides, you only had to show your costume off on the rare occasion when a Manager or an Ax-wielder insisted.)
But there were always some scoundrels who resisted -- who wore no costume or the wrong costume or added or subtracted something from the prescribed costume! Happily they provided us, the correctly costumed, some distraction from, and recompense for, the disciplined life imposed by The Costume: these scoundrels could be minced, diced and even sliced, to the edification and amusement of all. As one of our sages put it, "It will be the reward of the Correctly Costumed to contemplate the eternal embarrassment of the Unfashionable!"
But mistakes were made. There were Wonderful People who were mistaken for scoundrels. (Or, as some club managers explained later, Wonderful People whose correct costume was ignored or unrecognized by scoundrels posing as club managers.) Belated recognition of their wonderfulness did not undo the fact that they had been minced, sliced, and diced. These martyrs to Fashionable Costumery were eventually acknowledged, however, and even some expiation for the mistake offered in that club functionaries, Ax-wielders of the Costume, even, could sport a Wonderful Remnant, a mincing, a slicing or a dicing, to adorn their renovated costumes.
But scoundrels abounded. And even wielded axes. The Costume Wars commenced. After great struggle, a most unappetizing truce was concluded: scoundrels were to be permitted to go about their scoundreling, their restyling the Costume, without interference. It was time to go elsewhere.
We came to Newland seeking to establish a Realm of the Costume. Unfortunately, scoundrels abounded here, too. Something in the air or water, it seemed, turned even the most fervent among us, our own children, even, into scoundrels. We had been sure our epaulets and shoulder-braids would hold, indeed, draw people away from the false charms of tucks and darts and appliqués; but, not only did tucks and darts and the lot continue to mar the Costume, but some added spats. Spats! And the Law permitted it! Worse, yet, the Law allowed real scoundrels to pretend to True Costumery and even defame us as the scoundrels! Hard to bear; but, at least, these scoundrels, who outnumbered us substantially, were not permitted to wield the Ax in their own behalf.
Many a Wise Person, throughout the history of this Newland, has warned us that without Costume, Schooling can never be Education. Public schooling we found particularly disturbing for its disregard of costumery. Over the years in this Newland, intense feelings about costumery have waned and some rapprochement has occurred between aficionados whose costumes vary minorly. Many of us now understand that the Costume, like the proverbial Elephant, has many facets only some of which we, with our limited understanding, can comprehend. It is now a time when we -- and our (ex-scoundrel) associates -- recognize that minor variations in costume are not so important, so long as everyone wears a costume. (Spats are still anathema -- but there are jails, now, as well as axes.) It is our most recent undertaking to promote the public funding of costume-based schools.
Here is our proposal: Let all and only those presenting themselves as costumed club managers -- mere members are so fickle and membership, itself, so changeable -- have access to public funds to establish schools, each based on their own Costume. Let the funds be proportioned to the needs of the membership served.
We believe that schools based on costumery will enoble those attending them, strengthening their characters and providing a firm basis for their citizenship. History proves this: one need only look at the Ax-wielders to see how costumery has softened their manners, their hearts and their mercies.
But doesn't our proposal run a real risk that scoundrels, real honest-to-goodness Scoundrels, will pass themselves off as costumed club managers just to get their hand in the pot? Couldn't every person in Newland fashion themselves a costume and claim to be a club manager?
There are two answers to this concern: the first is that History again shows how in the long run the Power of Costumery brings the fraudulent, the real Scoundrels, to ruin. Our Costume abides with us and the Scoundrels are vanquished to a place where only second-hand clothing and hand-me-downs are available.
The second answer is this: even as we speak, the majority of our members -- no matter how evanescent their membership -- express fatigue at the many choices offered them and the many decisions they must make which take time away from their casinos, their video games, their World Federated Wrestling, and their Monday night football. They implore us to create a League of Certified Costumery to ward off the scoundrels, perhaps even, with the helped of properly costumed legislators, to recostume the Ax-wielders for the enforcement of Good Fashion.
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