PERSPECTIVErnGrow Old Along With Mernby Thomas FlemingrnI grow old learning many things,” said Simonides, a poetrnX well known for his wisdom and for his longevity: He livedrnto be almost 90. Although, as my old teacher Douglas Youngrnpointed out, Simonides’ statement might be interpreted tornmean “too much education makes one prematurely old,” thernpoint is clear enough and as true today as it was 2,400 years agornwhen the Greek poet went from town to town, composing odesrnand epitaphs for his fellow aristocrats; A wise man never ceasesrnto learn new things.rnSimonides’ reputation for wisdom was so great that Plato tookrnhim on in the Protagoras and tried to discredit—unsuccessfully,rnin my opinion—the poet’s definition of virtue as a reflection ofrna good conscience and character. Aristotle, who did so much tornrestore character (as opposed to merely rational understanding)rnto the center of ethics, would also have approved of Simonides’rncommitment to learning. In fact, he opened his Metaphysicsrnwith the statement that man is born with the desire to findrnthings out. To give up learning, then, at any age, is to cease tornbe fully human.rnWhat, after all, distinguishes the human race from otherrnpredatory mammals, if not his curiosity? All mammals, to bernsure, go through a process of education, as they are taught tornhunt or forage and obey the rules of the pack or pride. For tigersrnand wolves, the process lasts a few years (rodents have even arnshorter time to find the wisdom that will enable them to survive),rnbut the higher apes continue to learn up to perhaps thernend of junior high school age, which beats the average Americanrnwho attends public schools.rnIn the wild, many human beings seem to reach maturityrn(that is, the point at which they stop learning) by the age of 21,rnand until recently the government recognized the fact by makingrn21 the age at which boys and girls were considered obedientrnenough to vote and sufficiently dull-witted to want to drinkrnthemselves unconscious in a public place.rnHumankind is unusual in prolonging all the stages of developmentrn(except for in utero development: Our oversized headsrnrequire premature delivery), and the higher types of humanityrn—poets, aristocrats, warriors, and composers—are noted forrnpreserving a certain juvenile openness to the end of their careers,rnif not of their lives. Mozart died young, but there is nornreason that he would ever have grown up, any more than “PaparnHaydn” or Sophocles or G.K. Chesterton really grew up.rnAnimal trainers and primatologists know that every speciesrnhas its limits. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and a gorillarnthat has learned sign language in its youth will, upon reachingrnmaturity, adamantly refuse to play along, even if he can getrna treat every time he flashes the correct sign. In training dogsrnand horses, care must be taken not to destroy the animal’s spirit.rnVachel Lindsay’s “broncho that would not be broken” diedrnrather than allow itself to be turned into a machine, and thernmad poet apostrophizes the colt in the glory of his freedom:rnAs you dodged your pursuers, looking askancernWith Greek-footed figures, and Parthenon paces,rn0 broncho that would not be broken of dancing.rnAmerica is full of high-spirited boys who will join gangs orrnfollow the Grateful Dead from town to town before they willrnpermit their souls to be destroyed in a government school.rn1 can almost hear the latter-day Gradgrinds objecting: “Boysrn10/CHRONICLESrnrnrn