Conquest of Ignorance & Human Survival

Part IV — Chapter 3

The Saracen School


First statement.

Second statement.


Maybe schools come next after water and food as one of the essentials of thinking life? After all, if you can not learn about your world what chance to you have for survival? Let alone making a good life for yourself and those for whom you are responsible. Such as children.

Most people are not familiar with the word Saracen. And the concept of what it was to be a Saracen. Certainly now for “Westerners,” if I used the synonym of “Arab” most people would switch channels.

Yet the Saracen civilization was a shinning light during the Dark Ages of Europe. And at its end it and the Muslim world it represented turned on the light in Europe. For it was the knowledge of the Arabs and the Greek world and knowledge they preserved that was the cause of the Renaissance in Europe. And of the Industrial Revolution that followed.

I will not go into a lot of historical detail on this remarkable civilization. You can read something of it The Mainspring of Human Progress, by Henry Grady Weaver.[ 1 ] In there you will also find references to other books on that subject. You can get more information on this book at the publisher web site.

A Current School

Hardly worthy of the name. If parents can afford it, it is a private school. With some being worthy of the name. Others hardly any better than their alternative.

The alternative perhaps resembling a prison facility. Or a high security military establishment. Where, as my great teacher said, “… they open the head. Pour in some facts or fantasies. Then close the head.” And hope for the best. The facts have little or no connection with each other. No knowledge of how the information was arrived at, what it means, or why. More of a propaganda arm of the régime than an educational facility.

Harsh? Unrealistic? Too caustic and polemic? Think of the result. From the same organization the runs the operation. And they say that illiteracy runs at 30% or more? That in America and England most of the students rank below those of many of the poorest nations of the world.

And the “school leavers” (you can not really call them “graduates”) go out into the world where no one knows why their society is in decay. And where there is no viable mechanism to repair this.

But you know all this. So let us talk about a true alternative…

The Saracen School


It was private school, as all schools must be to provide an education in the proper meaning of the word. It made a profit. A very handsome one for the most successful schools. It consisted of an advisor and teachers. To a large extent its classroom was the world. The physical facilities might be the house of a teacher. A library. Maybe an inn, open field or a factory or business. In fact it is more an idea than a thing.

A very simple one. And the explanation will be short. Sketchy. You need to think.

The Advisor and Beginning Student

Generally it would be a parent who brought a child to an advisor. Selected because of their market image and credit rating. Recommended by a friend or friends in the market. The advisor might be thought of as a “Master Teacher.” And once selected this was usually a lifetime position. People switched mainly on the death of an advisor. Maybe because of moving a great distance away. Sometimes because of the recognition the parent had not made a good choice.

The function of the advisor was to learn and know a great amount about the child and the parent. To then do some basic teaching and testing and achieve some understanding. Of what the child might best at and would like to do. Hopefully the same thing. Then as today, the advisor would plan a course of study. And those specialist teachers who could best teach those subjects to a child the ascertained qualities, characteristics and desires.

Advisor and Teacher Compensation

Based of course on results. At least the major portion of the cost. The same principle as with physician services. A modest retainer. And a rather modest royalty or fee based on the lifetime earnings of the student. As with any product that might be created, some products will sell well in the market. Have good or very good sales. Others will be “so–so.” And a few not sell well at all. Probably that old “normal distribution” or “bell curve” thing.

By “product” I mean the student who has gone out into the world. I will not say the one that has “finished their education.” Galambos had some caustic comments about that common statement. My interpretation of his comments was that if you have stopped learning you are dead. Or will soon be.

I am still learning. Better things and at a better rate than when I was in a formal school. And as I also tell those whose native language is not English, I am still learning English. At least I hope so, although this book may confirm that I must work much harder.

From my youth I remember a French saying: “Un repas sans vin, c’est comme un jour sans soleil.” [A day without wine is like a day without sunshine]. I believe an even more important statement might be that “A day without learning is a day without life”?

All the advisor and teachers need is one Archimedes, Newton or Boorstin. William Hewlett, David Packard, Steve Jobs or Michael Dell and they will make a handsome living. And have a very good market image for acquiring and selecting the best of students. And for the advisor, ease in obtaining good teachers.

This provides an incentive for advisor and teacher to spend time with students. To themselves keep abreast of the latest in knowledge, technology and business.

Teaching Method

I do not know whether this should have come before the compensation, but for now it is here.

Remember the political method? Open head and pour in facts? And having no understanding of the facts? This is because the student has done no thinking on the subject. Only remember the facts long enough to pass the test.

I am sure it must have been Galambos who told me this. You must lead the student to think and to come to the conclusion before the teacher announces it. This knowledge is probably not unique to Galambos. Although he might have thought of it independently before knowing it from someone else. It is one of those things that is so “simple” it should be “obvious” to anyone who thinks on the subject.

It is almost like a mystery story. And it is a mystery until the student solves it. And it is like a treasure hunt. As there is a buried treasure. New and useful knowledge. The greatest of all treasures.

The teacher starts the story. Takes the student down one road. Spreading some clues on the roadside. Then follow another branch. It is like a road or tree with many branches. Although maybe this is like a pine tree, with a well defined top and end to the tree. This has many pathways or branches. And maybe some false clues or dead end streets that the student must think about. Whether to accept or discard. To enter or not enter that area. Maybe it is not relevant.

“But where is the teacher going?! Will he never get there?” Maybe not today or this session. Maybe the “homework” will last for one evening or many evenings. And if the teacher must give the conclusion or answer before the student thinks of it they have failed as a teacher. In more rare cases the student has failed.

There may be many treasure hunts or trees on the same subject. With answers ranging from the answer to one calculus problem to the student being required to recreate the very concept of calculus itself. To discovering the relationship between electricity and magnetism as Faraday did. Or explaining the principles of television, as the young Philo Farnsworth did. Or maybe the student would write so many papers on so many advanced subjects that they would need to use “anonymous” to avoid embarrassing the teacher. As was necessary for William Thompson.

Thompson started Glasgow University at the age of ten. While still a teenager he had written a dozen pamphlets on pure and applied mathematics. As Bill Bryson says, “… of such dazzling quality that he had to publish them anonymously for fear of embarrassing his superiors.”[ 2 ]

This is the rare student who will do very well in spite of the teacher rather than because of the teacher. Yet is possible that this precociousness had been created or at least stimulated by a very early teacher. Perhaps even a parent. Who at least had not told the child to “shut up and stop asking so many questions.”

The Teacher

The advisor may often be the teacher. Although the advisor will contract with specialist teachers when the advisor is not the best teacher of a subject. The teachers with whom he contracts may themselves be advisors to other students.

As a matter of convenience the advisor would normally pay these specialist teachers. Perhaps acquiring their services at a discount. The fee could be included in the “retainer” paid to the advisor or the fee paid directly according to the terms of the basic contract and the specialist teacher.

Including it in the basic contract however has profound implications. The advisor then has a major, additional investment in the student. They have the expense of paying the specialist teacher. And must therefore be careful in their selection. To get a return on their investment. The understanding that the knowledge imparted to the student will make them successful in their career. The specialist teacher must be good at their subject and be a good match with the student.

The Graduate

There is no diplo“degree” is awarded by the marketplace. But the student’s employers or directly by the market in the case of someone who becomes an someone who becomes an entrepreneur. Their “degree” is their image and reputation in the marketplace.

Actually, this is the generally the situation today. Although most people do not think about it. The degree can help you get your first job or two. But after that employers look more at what the employee has achieved in the marketplace. Their reputation with their employers and others with whom they might interact in the market.

In the Saracen School the advisor or any of the student’s teachers could be instrumental in arranging the first job. That can happen today also. And the student’s reputation may have preceded them. If they wrote some papers or articles, or perhaps were in “work study” programs.

Advisor Payment

As I said, this is a percentage of the income of the student. For life. As you can understand, this provides a major incentive for the advisor to truly educate the student. With technical and business knowledge, and the knowledge of life. To teach them good character.

The reputation, livelihood and life style of the advisor is determined by how well they have done their job. As I said, if they create one Newton or Einstein, or one Hewlett, Packard, Gates or Dell, fame and fortune is theirs. As long as they do not have a Hitler, Stalin or Bush as a student. I almost wrote “graduate,” rather student. Although such a student could not be termed a graduate. The market would not award that status to such a person.


The current system does not work. The Saracen School worked in the past. And I think it would work today.

End Notes

  1. Henry Grady Weaver, Mainspring of Human Progress. The Foundation for Economic Education (1997).
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  2. Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, Broadway Books (2003), p. 77
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© Copyright 2006 — William W Morgan — All Rights Reserved.