It is possible to teach truth only in such things as arithmetic and the physical sciences; and to some limited extent in such things as tying a bow or skating or swallowing a sword. But if we wish to teach anything to our children beyond these things, uncontested truth is impossible. If we are content with teaching such things as that the giraffe is a mammal or that three feet
make one yard, then of course these things can be taught exactly; and in that case we are independent of all doubt and all controversy, of all philosophy, theology, ethics, or aesthetics.
Let the child exist entirely upon these undisputed facts. When the time hangs heavy on his hands, when he yearns for the pulse and dance of some light lyric, let him repeat to himself that three feet make one yard. When the sky of his spirit darkens, when troubles come upon him and tear his soul, let him comfort and reassure himself by remembering that, in spite of all passing storms, the giraffe remains a mammal. If this satisfies him, let him be satisfied. But if we have the least notion of teaching him such things as history and philosophy, religion or ethics, art or literature, let us abandon altogether the notion that we can tell him the truth, in the complete and real sense. We cannot teach history fairly; the thing is intrinsically impossible. It is impossible for this simple reason, that, every human being, being unfathomable, no one can really decide how right or how wrong he was. There was more honesty in Titus Oates and more wickedness in Bayard than we can exhaust until the end of time.
Let anyone who thinks he can give children a pure, impartial picture of the seventeenth century, try a parallel experiment. Let him give one single child a lesson in the character of his Uncle Joseph; let him establish an Uncle Joseph class of one; then let him see how he can convey all the rich humours and indescribable shades which we all recognise in that particular uncle. Then let him ask himself how he is to convey the final truth about a war two hundred years ago which raged between two armies of the Uncle Josephs; a war in which one Uncle Joseph imprisoned five Uncle Josephs, in which ninety Uncle Josephs mobbed one Uncle Joseph, in which millions of men mingled, every one of them an inexhaustible problem. You cannot be just in history. Have enthusiasm, have pity, have quietude and observation, but do not imagine that you will have what you call truth. Applaud, admire, reverence, denounce, execrate. But judge not, that ye be not judged. – from Lunacy and Letters