I always liked our university’s motto, but in an age of purposeful ignorance I’ve come to appreciate it even more.
Inspired by Chaucer’s Clerk, the motto means we bow to evidence. It means we understand the present and future by learning history. We will learn science, and weigh the claims of economic interests. We will embrace art, and find joy in human expression. And it means we are all richer for sharing what we learn.
“We” includes everyone: faculty, staff, students, citizens and visitors, men and women, genderqueer, deep scholars and wide-eyed children.
But today we live in a country where science and art are on the chopping block, where super-rich men play golf and talk about who they can exclude from the American dream. Where religious leaders try to take us back to the days when men claimed divine commission to decide what was true.
Our country is in thrall to a gospel of short-term gain. It reminds me of that story about killing the goose that laid the golden eggs: “Can’t we just cut the bird open? All those golden eggs are inside!” But that is is not how golden-egg laying geese, or society, or life, work. Those golden eggs are a product of the care we lavish on the goose.
Chaucer’s Clerk was not wealthy; in fact he lived in a way that was quite out of step with his times. But a whole society of people who are glad to learn, and glad to teach? That’s a different story.
- Discuss this post on Facebook and Twitter
- Illinois State News looks back on the history of the motto
- Back in 1993, the Chicago Tribune didn’t like this motto at all. No sir, not one bit.
- Tufts University address on Chaucer’s Clerk: Gladly Learn And Gladly Teach
- I looked up the difference between a slogan and a motto. Slogans are more of a sales tool, said learningenglish.com, where a motto is a mission statement.