King Solomon was, we are told, the wisest man who ever lived, though I have always been a little skeptical about that claim, since we are also told that he had 700 wives.
Nevertheless, the story of how he solved the problem of the two women who both claimed the baby to be theirs stands as one of the great examples of practical wisdom recorded. In fact, Solomon had a lot to say about nearly every aspect of life and much of what he said is still relevant today, especially this little gem.
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“That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.”
Thinking about that got me wondering if there really IS anything new under the sun and it seems that good king was completely wrong, at least on an initial examination. However, if we take what he said in context we can see that he was right. Life is a cyclical thing. What has happened in the past will happen again, and, in that sense, nothing changes and everything that we see happening around us has happened before and will happen again.
Being older does give one a position of preeminence, an ability to stand back from the minutiae of life and see the “big picture” as they call it. Having already seen the greater part of our lives pass by we can see things a little more clearly. Nowhere have I seen this principle that everything new is old again more clearly illustrated than in my chosen profession of teaching.
40 or so years ago when I first trained to be a teacher, things were pretty clear. Grammar, in all of its permutations and combinations, was taught carefully and seriously. Spelling mattered and woe betide the student who used an apostrophe to indicate a plural as is the epidemic sweeping our society today. The plural of “pizza” is “pizzas” NOT “pizza’s.” Punctuation was important and sentence and paragraph construction was taught as if the students’ lives depended upon them. Maths, science and the other “skill” subjects were taught with equal rigour as if they were the eternal verities. But, then, in the early 70’s things started to change. A switch from grammar as the basis for communication started to happen. Suddenly (at least it seems suddenly looking back on it now) it became less important for the child to be able to spell and write coherent sentences and more important that they be able to “express themselves” (though quite how they were able to do so when there was no structure within which for them to do it, I don’t know).
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The changes continued apace, in all subject areas and in the way that staff treated the children as well. And all of this was accompanied by interminable training courses for staff to attend so that they could be trained (dare I say, indoctrinated) into the new ways of doing things.
It took a while for it to sink in but one day the corner of the veil was lifted and I suddenly saw that these “new” ways of doing things were really the OLD ways of doing things, re-invented with new terminology and materials but essentially they were the same. Once the corner had been lifted it didn’t take long for the whole pretence to be swept away and for us to realise that earnest and clever academics, labouring away in the rarefied atmospheres of universities were messing with our minds right across the board.In essence, nothing changed, only the name on the box.
You see, everything new IS old again. It’s the same stuff that we knew all those years ago, rebranded, digitised, wrapped in a pretty wrapper and available online. Because Solomon was right after all. Life IS cyclical, the “wheel of life” as another ancient belief system calls it. What has happened before will happen again. The trick is to recognise when it is happening and to not make the same mistakes that we made when we met the situation the last time.
There IS nothing new under the sun, that’s a fact. All the same, I sometimes wonder what Solomon would make of my smartphone if he were here right now!