Monday, September 15, 2014

a surface scratched

I am here but scratching the surface of my 'philosophy of education'. Those who know where I'm coming from, will understand. Those who don't, probably never will, though I am open to expounding further should I receive the unlikely request to clarify further.

C. S. Lewis once pointed out (even in the 1950s!) that the contemporary system of education (including the university) is systematically designed to weed out the types of people that, in ages past, were the only people who were commonly accepted in to higher education to begin with.  He said, e.g., a Wordsworth would have been detected, discouraged, and ultimately discarded as early as possible.  All of this, of course, follows upon the 'democratization' of modern civilization; regardless of the motivational posters one sees on classroom walls, the truth is that Excellence is frowned upon. Contemporary Western education wants people who Play By The Rules to 'make it' in higher education (an old professor of mine called such as these [e.g. nearly all his graduate students] "Grinders").  This System in fact wants to validate all those many thousands of students who don't really need to receive formal education in the first place.  Probably the most popular 'case study' of this type situation is Albert Einstein. I think perhaps that in the popular imagination the moral of his story is misunderstood; people ought to conclude that perhaps schools need to be altered such that our Einsteins might flourish in them, rather than singling him out as a totally unique case (not that he was not a genius beyond reckoning).  I think one of the reasons, for instance, that people of my own Myers-Briggs/Keirsey "personality type" (INTP; Einstein, by the by, is frequently cited as the Archetype of this personality) aren't particularly suited to contemporary academia is that the latter is dominated by that oh-so-bureaucratic Extraverted Thinking function, and INTP's dominant Introverted Thinking is so often violently opposed to this kind of systematization and (even worse) authoritarianism.

My personal opinion is that 'schools' ought to be sort of like, if you will, Intellectual Monasteries; consider, e.g., the Sicilian Pythagoreans, Plato's Academy, Aristotle's Lyceum, or even the circa 13th-century University of Paris -- this is how education/schools/universities ought to be.  And on such models it would follow that education (perish the thought!) is not for everyone.  The ancient Greek term σχολή -- and its Latin equivalent
schola -- from which we derive the term 'school' meant Leisure (Latin Otium, as opposed to Negotium, i.e. worldly-affairs, business):  a life of free inquiry. This, indeed, is where our term Liberal Arts (artes liberales, associated with Otium / Leisure) derives from. The latter used to be juxtaposed to the Servile Arts (artes serviles, associated with Negotium / Business), which focused on more 'practical' matters, providing goods and services necessary for material and/or daily living. This modern notion that one needs a BA to "get a good job" is a complete non sequitur; education should not be seen as a 'preparation for the workforce'. Knowledge (scientia) is, or ought to be, an end in and for itself, and Education with a capital-E ought to be set up so as to accommodate that fact.  

Incidentally, the theory of personality as per Myers-Briggs, Keirsey, etc., could very well serve as grounds (however 'theoretical') for making the case for a return to more classical forms of education.  Consider:  does an ISFP artist really need to learn about the sciences? does an ENTJ inheriting a 'family business' really need to know anything about the Humanities?  I say if it's a life of work that you desire, just go work. Education ought to be for those whose priorities lie within the Life of the Mind.

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