The issue really hinges on what you postulate as the proper goals of higher education. It’s interesting how complex the Lockean heritage is on this score, with the dual emphasis on proximity to the instructor (home schooling essentially versus the Platonic model which, at least exoterically, completely mistrusts parental supervision) and the ultimate goal of rational autonomy that issues in productivity. Locke chooses an oddly unproductive model to aggrandize productivity–his highly personal approach to pedagogy seems incongruent with generating number crunching merchants and scientists. On the other end of the spectrum, Plato’s approach is maniacally impersonal but aims at the philosophical elevation of the soul. (and I’m suspicious about how merely exoteric Plato’s view is here: consider the way he also undermines parental authority in the Lysis and Apology).
From a practical side, I think Ivan’s comment makes a great deal of sense. I admire parents who can home school and do it well, but there is a difference between being a parent and being the teacher. It is something I have observed that often shows up when talking to teachers who are parents and know their profession and subject matter, but are confused about how difficult it is to be parents at times because they can’t enter Plato’s more impersonal mode with their own children. Proximity and autonomy can be just as difficult at the level of graduate education as well, depending on the skill of the teacher and the competence or ability of the student. Education is a complex activity by its very nature unless one wishes, as Peter points out, to reduce it to the transmission of information and avoid the education of the whole person.
Two great comments.
There is a certain irony in the idea of home education being now also through the computer and online classes. That’s the new thing in home schooling, that you can enroll your child in an online school and have someone keep at least some and sometimes all of the education on that more impersonal level. Some parents participate, monitor and comment on the online classes and some maintain hands-off for the online classes, but are involved in the child’s education in other subjects, and some sit the kid in front of the computer for the day. The latter sounds awful to me, for all the reasons offered on Peter’s page 3.
I found no problem with the parent/teacher thing because, as my kids and their friends told me, I was teaching all the time. That’s how to handle it, perhaps, more or less in the Montessori method. Education of the whole person was the province of parenting for us. Didactic parenting sounds awful, but that’s all my kids knew and they do not complain. Rather, they inflict their own kids with similar parenting. Who has more interest in elevating a child’s soul?
Here is a fine lecture that Clifford Orwin gave at BC on democracy, isonomia, isagoria, and war in Herodotus.
I never took a class with Orwin (as he was at Toronto and came to deliver this lecture at BC many years after I left), but I had many wonderful professors at BC and elsewhere, and as good as Orwin’s lecture is, from the student’s point of view, nothing beats the personal, face-to-face teaching in a lecture/seminar/discussion.
This education outside of the personal guidance of the wise traditions of the home may make one intrinsically hostile to education of parents, but because parents may be mad or absent in the first place, it is not bad as an initial ersatz introduction to the issue of what is true as well as what is right.
Besides, university education with its 200 students in a class, or high school education which must live up to abstract measurable standards as benchmarks of success, is hardly Socratic. It doesn’t necessarily lead to maniacal impersonal elevations of the soul understood in its own lonely autonomy as opposed to connections of duty to things like family or community that is greater than oneself. Not only is such public school education not going to understand the meaning of those words as words, but it is simply going to inadvertently ratify popular opinion in the community of what constitutes education. And that tends to be success undertood in measurable ways that will ultimately lead to some sense of the productive person–not the whole person as Orwin emphasizes.
Orwin’s understanding of education is best, but it is not for everyone, and perhaps even too expensive for those few.
Moreover, it will not show itself as immediately productive for anyone, and if it shows productivity it is often in dubious ways as Thales’ monopoly of the olive presses.
Such an education of the whole person as Orwin advocates is hard to defend and expensive to maintain. That’s why it’s both rare and difficult–as are all things and persons both beautiful and noble (kalos kagathon) open to the truth–or at least open to the “Other” as our postmodernists admonish us to be.
Emerson speaks to this issue of education in terms of excellence in a democracy, but I’ve rambled on too long. Tocqueville too speaks in a similar spirit as Emerson, but with a wiser understanding of the problems of equality of conditions, its tendency toward a pervasive belief in pantheism (a la Emerson), and its consequent diminution of greatness and therefore of human liberty.
So Peter, will you offer an online course soon for those who would like to take one? Otherwise, how does one arrange a course with you without going back to college?
Listen, Tim, if the money’s right… The sad thing is that I’d be for someone organizing an online program I could believe in. In our competency-based world, all people want is someone with the credentials–and measurable outcomes–to validate that you know enough to get credit. There’s no reason that can’t be done online. Not only that, a structured blog-based conversation, students sharing their drafts online with one another, and all that might actually work in a better than a “good enough” way. One of you young entrepreneurs needs to ge the funding from the Kochs or Thiel or Hertog or Miller or whoever and get this thing going. I know Carl and John and Pete have plenty of wisdom to share and need the omeny.
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