In which I Muse on Things I Assume Every Parent Knows, but Apparently not.

Heinlein quote

The English word “spoil” is ultimately derived from the Latin word spoliare and comes down to English via the Old French word espillier. What is interesting about all the different forms of the word throughout history is that one common theme emerges: violence. “Spoil” as a verb referred “to stripping someone (usually an enemy) of clothes; to strip, plunder, pillage.” As a noun, “spoil” referred to the results of what was taken by this act of violence.

Why do I begin here? Today we most commonly apply the word “spoil” to two categories: food and children. What is interesting to observe is that these two categories “spoil” in opposite ways: food by neglect, children by indulgence. When we ignore and “under-care” for food, it spoils. Contrariwise, when we mollycoddle and “over-care” for children, they spoil.

But what does it mean to “over-care” for or pamper a child and why does this lead to spoilage?  The answer rests in the nature of growth. We might, to continue the analogy, spoil food before it reaches maturity in a similar way. We might over-water it, over-feed it, over-expose it to sunlight, and so on. If we are poor gardeners we might lavish a plant with things that it legitimately needs to grow, but given to excess, kills it. We might even do this out of love. That is, we so love our green beans that we lavishly spread manure over them, but give them so much that we suffocate them. No one who did this to plants could be said “to love” his green beans; so too with children. Both plants and children need the right amount of nutrients to grow, but no more. Both plants and children must be worked on to grow—they must be weeded, they must be pruned. They must be cultivated, which might include activities that each find disagreeable.

It is quite understandable that parents would want to protect their child. But when that protection is aimed at the elimination of all suffering, the parent—in a serious way—does violence to the child (i.e., spoils the child). We live at a time when people view childhood as a time set aside for delight, for play, for the care-free life spent skipping amongst the daisies, and splashing in pools. We must not, so the thinking goes, impose upon the child discipline and training and force the child to “grow up too fast.” Children must not be made to suffer these things. We must not spoil their childhood.

It is certainly understandable why some parents have this point of view. When we’re children, all we want to do is grow up, right? We want to be older. We want to do what the grown-ups do. We want to sit at the grown-up’s table. Who likes to sit at the “kids table?” Yet, once we grow up, we find that it’s not all it promised to be. There are debts to pay, yards to mow, laundry to wash, meals to cook, careers to advance, spouses to please, neighbors to keep up with. And faced with such undesirable circumstances, we tell our children, “Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May.” So, we want to protect our children from all this. Perhaps we don’t want them to grow up, because we don’t like what growing up looks like. So, we give our children everything they want to protect them from all these undesirables.

No one, however, who thinks this way about their children, can be said to love their children. For this approach merely keeps the child as a child, which is unnatural. The child’s desire to “grow up” is natural and must be nurtured, not impeded. To lavish the child with everything he or she wants is to keep the child in a state of perpetual youth. Is this not what we mean by a “spoiled brat?” And when the child is given everything he wants, he cultivates within the mindset of “I will do what I will do, and no one will tell me otherwise.” This seems to have become the mantra of a large portion of our culture, and it is the mantra of perpetual childhood. It is the mantra of a wealthy era. For only the child expects to get whatever they want, do whatever they, and say whatever they want without consequences. This is the false process of a shallow freedom defined only as “lack of restraint.”

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But true freedom is the ability to live according to one’s nature: to be able to live and act without a ruler and an overseer. But this requires great training, great discipline, great pain. The parents who truly love their children would be willing to see their children suffer so that those children might grow into healthy adults.

In our culture we often consider struggle as a sign that there is a problem. When a student is “struggling” with his or her homework, either the homework is too difficult or there is something wrong with the student—a learning disability perhaps. But why make this assumption? When I see a student struggling to understand, I rejoice. To me, this is a sign not that there is a problem, but that the student is thinking. Muscles must strain to grow. Iron must be hammered to be shaped. Friction must be achieved to sand wood. The mind must struggle with things it does not understand in order to come to an understanding. What really worries me are the students who aren’t struggling, because this is a sign either that the student already does understand (and so what is the point of the lesson) or that the student is indifferent and so no learning occurs.

Of course, we must do the right exercises too. Anyone who works in fitness and health will tell you that much damage can be done when exercises are done improperly. And much of what goes on in modern education would count as “damaging exercises.” But that’s not exactly my topic at the present. What is of more concern here is that we often find educators and even adults, avoiding tasks because they are “difficult.” For example, so many adults I meet refuse to read Shakespeare because it is “over their heads.” To this, philosopher Mortimer J. Adler answers:

Whoever passes by what is over his head condemns his head to its present low altitude; for nothing can elevate a mind except what is over its head; and that elevation is not accomplished by capillary attraction, but only by the hard work of climbing up the ropes, with sore hands and aching muscles.

We mustn’t give our children “what they can handle.” We must give them “more than they can handle” so that they can grow ever stronger and stronger. Adults who refuse to grow can never, without the charge of hypocrisy, expect children to grow.

We must be stronger than our children. We must be strong enough to say “no” to their desires because they are not yet strong enough. But to do this, we must be strong enough to say “no” to our own desires. And perhaps, as the Bard said, “there’s the rub.” Perhaps we give our children all they want because we ourselves are still children. Perhaps we are not yet strong enough to rule ourselves. Perhaps we are not willing to be exact and demanding with ourselves, so we cannot do so with our children.

So, will we? Will we ourselves “grow up” and stop spoiling ourselves and our children? Are we willing to see ourselves suffer and our children suffer that we might be something greater than we are now? Or will we continue to indulge ourselves like children and remain in a state of perpetual immaturity demanding to have the world bend to our wills?

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And by “suffer,” of course, I do not mean “abuse.” Clearly, that would go against all that I’ve stated here. Certainly there is an opposite error that some parents have made whereby they use abuse and punishment for the “good of the child.” Certainly not all discipline, training, and punishment is up-building; but neither is all discipline, training, and punishment harmful. As I’ve argued here, it can, in fact, be quite loving. Where is the line? Let that be the topic for another post.

For now, let us focus on not spoiling our children, on not plundering and pillaging them by lavishing them with all they want. Let us discipline them and help them grow. Let us cultivate them into the adults they are intended to be.

What is Art?

'Fountain'_by_Marcel_Duchamp_(replica)“That’s not art!” is a not uncommon reaction to Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. As we ponder the mounted urinal with letters scrawled across it, the question equally arises, “if it isn’t art, why isn’t it art?” And this must naturally lead to the fundamental question, “what is art anyway?” This confusion that comes to the average person when encountering certain “modern art” is further confused by the general ambiguity and broad use of the term “art” in a variety of contexts. For we sometimes speak of the “medical arts,” the “performing arts,” the “liberal arts,” “the culinary arts,” or we may even speak of the “art of basketball,” or the “art of living well.” So, what exactly is “art” and how do we know if something like Fountain would constitute a work of art?

The purpose of this essay is neither to offer an evaluation of whether Fountain is “art” nor whether if it is art, whether it is good or bad. Rather, this essay seeks to outline a beginning taxonomy through which we could possibly consider these questions. A single definition of “art” seems unlikely to account fully for the variety of objects and activities that we normally speak of as “arts.” For this reason, classifying different kinds of “arts” might possibly help us to understand the variety of ways we experience art in the world.

The first major division of “art” is the somewhat self-referential distinction of art as a “cause” on the one hand, and as an “effect” on the other. When we speak of art as a “cause,” it refers to the rules that govern an action and the skills needed to achieve some end; thus we speak of the “art of basket-weaving” or the “art of ship-building,” etc.  Art as an “effect,” refers to the “work of art” that is produced as a result of the actions of the one operating under the rules and skills of production. So the cause of the basket is the “art of basket weaving,” and the effect of basket-weaving is the “basket” which is produced. Both these (cause and effect) are properly “arts.”

We can refer to that which is produced as an “artifact,” but not all “arts” (as a cause) produce artifacts (as an effect). For example, the “medical arts” (as a cause) refers to all the scientific knowledge concerning the health of the body, along with the various skills needed to attain that health (like surgery or diagnosis). However, the one practicing the “medical arts” does not produce an “artifact.” Instead, the “health of the body” is the effect of the causal “medical arts.” Similarly, the “art of logic” (cause) produces syllogisms (effect), and the “art of governing” (cause) leads to the “act of ruling” (effect), but neither produce artifacts.

St. Thomas Aquinas from  by Carlo CrivelliThe two notions of art, however, are not on equal footing logically. For “art as cause” is the fundamental meaning of “art;” while “art as effect” is derivative or dependent (as is the case with all cause and effect relationships). Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and Kant all seem to agree on this point. Aristotle defines “art” as “identical with a state of capacity to make, involving a true course of reasoning” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1140a9-10).  And likewise says Thomas, “Art is nothing else but the right reason about certain works to be made. . . . Art, properly speaking, is an operative habit” (Thomas, Summa Theologica, I-II. Q. 57 A. 3). The cause is fundamental because it must come prior to the effect—without knowledge of “how-to” there can be nothing produced.

On this account, all actions have an “art”—it is the “know-how” to produce a desired effect, and all “arts as effects” will have a corresponding series of rules governing their production. (This statement is not entirely accurate, as will be seen below. For, according to Kant, the distinguishing characteristic of the “fine arts” is precisely the lack of universal governing rules, and yet there being an effect desired by the work of the artist.  How these two ideas can work together consistently will be explored below.) Hence Thomas’ reference to art as “right reason” concerning things “to be made”. And so points out Kant that “every art presupposes rules which are laid down as the foundation which first enables a product, if it is to be called one of art, to be represented as possible” (Kant, Critique of Judgement, 136.).

Art, therefore, is like science in that it involves a kind of speculative knowledge concerning the nature of reality. However, “science,” properly speaking, aims at knowledge of “what is,” while “art” aims at knowledge of “how to make X” or how to achieve a desired effect. In some cases there is clear overlap between “science” and “art”—as is the case of the “science of medicine” and the “art of medicine.” For without the “science of medicine” it is dubious that a doctor could achieve the health of the body, which is the desired effect of the “art of medicine.” On the other hand, some arts seem to be able to operate somewhat independently of the corresponding science. For example, it seems that a person can be quite capable in the “musical arts” yet have little knowledge “music theory”—and vice-versa.

adler4The remaining discussions of the various kinds of “art” all deal with arts as “effects.” In the first major sub-division of “art as effect” we can distinguish between arts which produce something outside of the artist and arts which work on the mind of the artist (i.e., those which do not produce something outside the artist). The latter of these are called “liberal arts” and are most closely associated with education. According to Mortimer J. Adler, “the liberal arts are traditionally intended to develop the faculties of the human mind, those powers of intelligence and imagination without which no intellectual work can be accomplished…once all were acquired, the student was “free” to stand before all things as a whole, both to know and to act” (Adler, What Is Liberal Education?). Traditionally the liberal arts were seven in number, constituting the language and mathematics arts necessary for the student to be “free” to know and to act in the world.

The former arts (those which produce something outside the artist) are variously called the “mechanical arts,” the “servile arts,” or the “practical arts.” What they have all in common is some end beyond the formation of the human mind. For example, the “medical arts” would fall under this category because the end of the art is something produced outside of the doctor (i.e., the health of the body of the patient). Hence, in this category would fall all manner of “arts” which will need to be further divided—for within this category of arts would include such things as the “art of carpentry,” the “art of the pianist,” the “medical arts,” and even the “fine arts.”

Immanuel_Kant_(painted_portrait)In further separating the “arts” at this point, Immanuel Kant is most instructive. According to Kant, when it comes to arts which produce something outside the artist, there are two broad categories: the “mechanical arts” and the “aesthetic arts.” The difference between the two are the ends the artist has in mind when creating the artwork. To understand the difference, we must go back the original distinction between “art as cause” and “art as effect.” There it was argued that all “art” is created according to the “universal reason”—that is according to some rule. These “arts” are here called the “mechanical arts”—they are arts made for some use. And hence they are sometimes called the “useful arts.” Here would include certain “industrial arts” like carpentry, ship-building, etc.

However, according to Kant, the “aesthetic arts” have no “useful” purpose in mind when they are created, or rather, they are not created according to a “universal rule”. The consequence of this, is that there is no “right or wrong” to the “aesthetic arts” in the same way there is a “right or wrong” in the production of a chair. For the chair, there are universal rules of carpentry by which the artisan works, but not so the painting. There is no “right or wrong” way to paint the Flint Hills. Furthermore, the painting of the Flint Hills is not made for some use in the same way that the chair is made for sitting.

“Aesthetics arts,” however, are not without an end, for the artist must have some end in mind when acting, otherwise he would not act. According to Kant, the end of these arts is pleasure. As such, Kant distinguishes between two kinds of “aesthetic arts:” “agreeable arts” and “fine arts.” The “agreeable arts” have pleasure as “sensation” as their end. Here Kant seems to have in mind perhaps the “culinary arts” and such “arts” as are pure enjoyment, as in “entertaining narrative, the art of engaging the whole [dinner] table in unrestrained and sprightly conversation, or with jest and laughter inducing a certain air of gaiety” (Kant, Critique of Judgement, 134-135).

And so we have finally arrived at the distinguishing features of the “fine arts.” The “fine arts” belong to that broad category of arts which are effects of human actions and which produce something outside of the one acting, and yet are ones for which there is no use. But unlike the “agreeable arts,” the “fine arts” are presented not as objects of “sensational enjoyment” but of a pleasure aimed at “modes of cognition.” That is, they are presented as objects of Beauty. Kant seems to have in mind Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of Beauty: “Beauty,” says Thomas, “relates to the cognitive faculty; for beautiful things are those which please when seen” (Thomas, Summa Theologica, I. Q. 5 A. 4). And by “seen” Thomas and Kant have in mind “seen by the mind.” So, if we ask the question, “what is that painting for?” the answer is “for enjoyment, for contemplation.”

Kant also denies that “fine arts” are meant to communicate something. Because “fine arts” are not made according to a universal rule, and although they present Beauty to the mind for contemplation, the “fine arts” are devoid of concepts. That is, they are not meant to “mean” one thing or another. Says Kant, the “fine arts” do not “permit of the judgement upon the beauty of its product being derived from any rule that has a concept for its determining ground” (Kant, Critique of Judgement, 136). So to ask, “what does this painting ‘mean’?” is to misunderstand the “fine arts.” “Fine arts” are presented to the mind as an object of Beauty for contemplation, which is what Thomas indicates is the nature of “beautiful things.”

German_School_(16th_century)_-_The_Lute_PlayerOne final division of “arts” should be addressed. Within the “fine arts” we can distinguish between “plastic arts” and “performing arts.” Both of these would contain the characteristics described for “fine arts” above. The difference here is that “plastic arts” would constitute whole, or completed art forms which involve the manipulation of matter. Such things as painting, sculpting, ceramics, etc. would fall into this category of “fine arts.” The “performing arts,” by contrast, are “fine arts” which are always “in progress” in their presentation. Such art forms as theatre or “musical arts” would fall into this category. A musical performance, by its nature, is always in “progress” of presentation, unlike a sculpture which is a completed whole.

If we now return to our original queries concerning Duchamp’s Fountain, we now have the conceptual categories with which to place it. The original urinal that Duchamp repurposed would seem to fall under that category of industrial arts which produce ceramic fixtures. The fixtures are made for certain uses according to universal rules. The question, however, whether something can be repurposed and presented as “fine art” by merely scrawling some letters on an object and calling it “fine art” is not something we are capable of evaluating at this point. The general direction of the discussion would seem to allow for such a piece as constituting “fine art.” If it is a “fine art” we are still left with the question of whether it is any good. Kant would seem to indicate that that question itself violates the nature of the “fine arts” and Beauty. What we have not explored in this essay is the true nature of Beauty and whether it has an objective definition. Thomas indicates it does, Kant that it does not. The method by which we could evaluate Fountain would have to settle this definition first, for the “fine arts” depends upon presentation of “art” as an object of Beauty for contemplation. If Beauty does have objective content we could possibly evaluate Fountain as either “good” or “bad,” but if Beauty has no objective content the most we could say is that we either find Fountain “enjoyable” or “unenjoyable” as a judgment of the mind. What we have seen, nevertheless, is that Fountain falls generally within the definition of “fine arts,” and what we mean by the “fine arts.” So, yes, that’s art!

The Necessity of Gratuitous Education

As we look over the plethora of options for education available to us, how we to decide what education is best? There is “on the job training,” vocational schools, technical schools, nursing schools, and the list goes on and on. Among this array of choices is “liberal arts education.” Looking over a truly liberal arts education, we might be struck to see the lack of similarity among the classes. We find classes in literature, philosophy, history, mathematics, speech, possibly theology, and the sciences. What exactly is the point of all this? Why would anyone pursue this kind of education? A liberal arts education will not train us to be bricklayers, it will not make us into doctors or lawyers, and it will not enable us to buy a home. It seems entirely gratuitous—something a rich person might indulge in until forced (if ever) to get a “real job.”

First, what exactly is meant by a “liberal arts education”? Many programs today which call themselves “liberal arts” would be unrecognizable as such fifty or more years ago. Today, many “liberal arts” programs have been reduced to “general studies” which contain little to no common core and an abundance of elective choices. Instead, a liberal arts education is one which has no electives whatsoever, for to allow the student to choose his own course of study is to turn over the process of education to the one who is in the least position to know what needs to be known: the student. As Mortimer J. Adler points out, “it is the student who is the master under the elective system … the relatively ignorant and incompetent, choose their own road to learning, according to the fickle interests of their immaturity.” In a liberal arts education, all students receive the same education because the end of liberal arts education is the cultivation of the human mind, not the training for a productive career. Since all are human, all require the same education.

250px-Grigorii_chudotvoretzIt is the end of liberal arts education itself which is the greatest argument for its pursuit. We should pursue the liberal arts because we are human. No one can choose not to be a human being, one can only choose whether or not to be a good one. To become fully what we are means the cultivation of the mind. James V. Schall states that within each of us is a “longing to know … [this is] the very heart of what we are as rational beings.” Most importantly, and yet often least known, is the need and desire to know “ourselves”—who we are, where we come from, where we are going. Liberal arts education aims to reveal the student to themselves. Gregory Thaumaturgus claims that this was one of the highest things that Origen taught his students: “teaching us to be at home with ourselves, and to desire and endeavor to know ourselves, which indeed is the most excellent achievement of philosophy, the thing that is ascribed also to the most prophetic of spirits as the highest argument of wisdom—the precept, Know thyself.” This indeed is the beginning of knowledge. For without knowledge of ourselves, no amount of our struggling will bring us closer to what we truly need.

So no, the liberal arts will not help you get a bigger boat, a better job, or a beautiful spouse. It will, however, teach you why none of those things, in themselves, will make you happy. Instead, the liberal arts will enable you (no matter what possessions you have, no matter what career you choose, no matter whether you are married or single) to be more human, more of what you were intended to be, and consequently, happier.

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Adler, Mortimer Jerome. Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind. Edited by Geraldine Van Doren. New York: Macmillan, 1988.

Schall, James V. On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing, Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2001.

Gregory Thaumaturgus. “Oration and Panegyric Addressed to Origen.” In The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being, edited by Richard M. Gamble, 179-80. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2009.

 

Abolish the Ph.D.!

I came across this today from Mortimer Adler:

Another demon we must exorcise is the Ph.D. degree. The Ph.D. degree has no ancient lineage. There were no Ph.D.s in the medieval universities. They had only four degrees. One was the teaching degree, the master of arts. The master was strictly a teacher, and he taught the same arts that the students were to learn, the liberal arts. The other three degrees were professional in nature: doctor of law, doctor of medicine, and doctor of theology. (Adler, “Reconstituting the Schools”)

He then explains the roots of the Ph.D. in German universities and why they don’t really have any meaning today.

He goes on, “Today there isn’t an actual doctor of philosophy in our country. There may be a few in the departments of philosophy, but for the most part they, too, are not philosophers. We don’t refer to someone as a “doctor of philosophy”; we say, “doctor of philosophy in [X]”.” 

Adler’s main complaint is that the Ph.D. is often taken to be one of a highly specialized degree of scholarship and a teacher. Hence, universities require their professors to have Ph.D.s. But anyone who’s been a part of a doctorate program knows, it in no way prepares you to be a teacher!  And I imagine many of us have suffered in college under professors who had no business being in a classroom.

Here’s what Adler recommends instead:

We ought to restructure the whole thing. We ought to have a “Sc.D.” which would stand of doctor of science of scholarship, and use that in place of the Ph.D., for all graduate degrees other than law, medicine, and theology. The Sc.D. would not signify a teacher at all. If we want to signify someone who is prepared to teach, and since the master of arts degree no longer means that, let us resuscitate the old degree (now an honorary degree) of L.H.D., the doctor of humane letters. (Ibid.)

Oh, and by the way, I found this in my reading for a doctorate class…

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Mortimer J. Adler

Why Study History? Part IIb: The Definition of “History”

Note: This is the third post in the series: “Why Study History?”

In my previous post I offered a definition of “education.” I must next set forth just what is meant by “history.” Once these two definitions are in place we will be able to explore their relationship.

How then shall we define “history?” According to historian John Lukacs, “no definition will do.” Instead, Lukacs offers a description of history: Says Lukacs, “History is the memory of mankind” (John Lukacs, A Student’s Guide to the Study of History). Understood thusly, “history” is a kind of memory, the memory of things and persons past. In this sense, history is both active and passive. Active in the sense of the “study of things past” and passive in the sense that the contents of thought are memories: we cannot think apart from “things remembered.”

Yet, in spite of the discouragement of defining history from Lukacs, a general definition is necessary in order to proceed. “History” as such seems to sit between science and poetry as a discipline and practice, incorporating elements of both. The English word “history” is derived from the Greek ἱστορία (historia) and according to the Liddell and Scott Greek-English lexicon denotes “knowledge or information obtained by inquiry.” It is in this way that history relates to science. Both science and history are concerned with a kind of knowledge that comes only after research, and both attempt to prove or justify their claims. Hence, Aristotle titled his study of animals, The History of Animals. It is not the past events of animals or tales of animals in the line of Aesop, but rather a study or inquiry of what he discovered about animals as the result of his research.

urlIn our time we might entitle Aristotle’s work as a “study” or “science” of animals, but this similarity between history and science is quite informative for the definition of “history.” First, history is not necessarily concerned with natural, universal laws of the physical world, but the particular events of the past. That is, it is the knowledge of what happened in the past. In this way, we can also speak of certain natural sciences as also being a “history.” Geology might constitute both the natural laws of rocks and planets, and the history of those particular rocks on Earth that explain its current state. In fact, some scientists have argued that a study of the history of a particular science is the best way of studying that field itself. “In the twentieth century some of our best physicists have suggested that the clearest explanation of the new concepts of physics may be that of the history of their development…the history of chemistry is chemistry itself” (John Lukacs, Historical Consciousness: The Remembered Past, 6).

Second, history is distinguished from the natural sciences in that, as its name implies, it is concerned with telling a story. The natural sciences are presented as propositions, while history is related in narrative (or prose) form. As Hegel says,

In our language the term History unites the objective with the subjective side … It comprehends not less what has happened than the narration of what has happened. This union of the two meanings we must regard as of a higher order than mere outward accident; we must suppose historical narrations to have appeared contemporaneously with historical deeds and events. (Georg Hegel, quoted in, Mortimer J. Adler, ed. “History,” 546.)

It is in this way that history was distinguished from poetry. Though both relate to what is known, historia relates to that which is known as the result of research. Both Homer and Herodotus wrote concerning the Trojan War, yet Homer’s is poetry, while Herodotus’ is history. The difference is that Herodotus intentionally set out to investigate the claims that people like Homer have made about those events. Says Herodotus, “I made inquiry, whether the story which the Greeks tell about Troy is a fable or not” (Herodotus, quoted in, Mortimer J. Adler, ed. “History,” 547). This relationship to poetry helps explains why history was one of the Nine Muses. Clio stands next to comedy and tragedy as art forms, requiring or offering inspiration. This would seem to suggest that there is more to history than just a scientific analysis of past events. History unites the investigations of past events with the poetry and prose of narration and storytelling.

History, then, may be described in the following ways:

  1. It is the investigative process whereby the historian determines what has happened in the past.
  2. It is knowledge of those past events as determined by the research
  3. It is the narration which communicates those events to others.

While certainly more could be said about the nature and philosophy of history, this brief description will suffice for the purpose of setting history as a topic within educational curriculum.

Up next: The first function of history in education

Previous Posts in the Series:
Part I: Introduction
Part IIa: The Definition of “Education”

Why Study History? Part IIa: The Definition of “Education”

Note: This is the second post in the series: “Why Study History”

Before an examination of the role of history in education can be made, the definitions of both “history” and “education” must be set forth. To begin with the later, there are two broad understandings of what constitutes “education.” On the one hand there is what I will call “humane education.” On this view, the primary purpose of education is to make students good. It is an education that concerns itself with the whole of human life and the formation of the child or student into a robust human being. On the other hand, there is what I will call “utilitarian education.” On this view, the purpose of education is to make students useful for some task. The modern utilitarian usually has something like “career” or “job” in mind when defining the “task” for which the student is to be trained. Etymologically, the word “education” is derived from the Latin ēdūco which means to lead forth, draw out, or bring away. This general concept is common to both humane and utilitarian education to the degree that both views see education as the process of leading the student from one state into another.

Both humane and utilitarian views of education go by different names, but it should be pointed out that, historically speaking, it is a mistake to associate “humane education” with “traditional” or “classical” education and to associate “utilitarian education” with “modernist” or “progressivist” education. Both forms of education can be found across the centuries and in many parts of the world simultaneously. For example, Aristotle, in defending the humane education like that found in Athens, criticizes the Spartans for their utilitarian education that was only concerned with “necessary and useful things,” and ignored what is “noble” (Aristotle, Politics, 1332b1:15-1334a1:25). However, “humane education” has been the dominant view among educators and philosophers until the modern period. Says Mortimer Adler, “one opinion from which there is hardly a dissenting voice in the great books is that education should aim to make men good as men and as citizens” (Mortimer J. Adler, “Education,” Great Books of the Western World, 297).

“Humane education” has its roots in Greece and is most closely associated with the Greek word παιδεία (paideia). “Paideia” refers to the nourishing or upbringing of a child and it is from the related Latin term humanitas which we derive “the humanities.” Both paideia and humanitas take it for granted that a child will not naturally grow into a full human being, and therefore requires humane education. For humane education, “the aim of education is the perfection of the individual soul, the cultivation of its faculties for their own sake and in due gradation of absolute value, using the external world, in so far as it does us this at all, chiefly as a means and opportunity of arriving nearer to the ultimate perfection or of rendering clearer our vision of the ultimate truth” (W. H. Hadow, “The Place of Humane Letters in Education,” 20).

The “means” alluded to by Hadow, most closely associated with humane education, have been the liberal arts. “Liberal” because those were the arts it was thought necessary to master in order to free the human mind. As Mortimer Adler says, “the liberal arts are traditionally intended to develop the faculties of the human mind, those powers of intelligence and imagination without which no intellectual work can be accomplished…once all were acquired, the student was “free” to stand before all things as a whole, both to know and to act” (Mortimer J. Adler, “What Is Liberal Education?”. It is not taken for granted that the child will naturally grow into an adult, rather the child requires cultivation. According to Leo Strauss, “‘culture’ means…chiefly the cultivation of the mind, the taking care and improving of the native faculties of the mind in accordance with the nature of the mind. Just as the soil needs cultivators of the soil, [so] the mind needs teachers. [Humane education] consists in reminding oneself of human excellence, of human greatness” (Leo Strauss, Introduction to Political Philosophy).

Different undertakings of humane education have included various disciplines or “liberal arts” to achieve the end of a fully develop human person. For example, Pythagoras of Samos, in the sixth century B.C. developed a progressive education of three levels: oral instruction, musical education, and culminating in mathematics. This was later developed by Plato in the Republic to involve music, sports, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and finally philosophy. By the time of ninth century A.D., humane educators had codified the “Seven Liberal Arts.” These involved the trivium (or 3 ways of knowing) of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and the quadrivium (or 4 ways) of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. They are properly “ways” as “ways of knowing.” The common theme among these varying schemes of “liberal arts” is that they worked on the inner life of the mind of the student, cultivating and forming the student to become more fully human. As stated above, this was the dominant view of education.

If humane education is concerned with the formation of a child into an adult, a definition of what it means to be human in the first place is necessary. Every understanding of humane education must be understood with the ideal of the human person. For instance, Pythagoras’ educational system culminated in mathematics because this was the sacred doctrine that fully formed the human mind. “Irrespective of the cultural setting, the crux of the educational paradigm was the same—i.e., beginning with the end in view and approaching that end incrementally with each art building upon the other…” (Littlejohn and Evans, Wisdom and Eloquence, 29). Often, utilitarian views of education purport to be silent on the issue of human nature, seeking instead merely to train the student to accomplish some task. For example, the utilitarian might seek to train the student to perform some job only, while attempting to ignore the question of why a person should perform any job in the first place. Such a philosophy is inconsistent. As David Hicks says,

Education at every level reflects our primary assumptions about the nature of man, and for this reason, no education is innocent of an attitude toward man and his purposes. The writer on education who fails to state his view of man at the outset expects to perform some polemical magic. He masks his premises and invites a gullible reader to judge his conclusions on the deceptive merit of a logical deduction. In fact, whether he wishes to or not, he presupposes an order of human values; his understanding of the nature and proper end of man determines the purposes and tasks that he assigns to education. (David Hicks, Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education, 3-4)

As indicated above, education concerns itself with the cultivation of the mind. Related to this notion is the idea that education is also the process of “enculturation.” That is, if we examine the nature of “education” beyond simply “schooling,” education is the process by which one generation hands off or communicates its culture with the next generation.

It is clear that culture is inseparable from education, since education in the widest sense of the word is what the anthropologists term ‘enculturation’…No doubt this is a far wider process than what is commonly known as education, for we apply the word ‘education’ only to a very specialized type of enculturation—the formal teaching of particular kinds of knowledge and behavior to the younger members of the community through particular institutions. And the most important of all the processes by which culture is transmitted—the acquisition of speech—takes place before formal education begins. (Christopher Dawson, The Crisis of Western Education, 3)

That is, “education” is the process by which a group incorporates a younger generation into its customs, practices, art, history, etc. This process often happens tacitly from the very moment a child is born as it learns the primary part of culture from parents: that of language. As will be explored later, E.D. Hirsch identifies modern utilitarian education’s failure to properly “enculturate” students as the primary reason for the overall failure of these students to be able to function in society; so that culture (or history) becomes a primary component of any educational philosophy, whether humane or utilitarian. Therefore, an evaluation of the relative merits of humane education versus utilitarian education is unnecessary for this series of posts (but certainly will be a part of a different series I have planned for the future), since the overall goal of this series is to argue that regardless of one’s philosophy of education, history plays an essential role.

Up Next: Part IIb: The Definition of “History”

Previous Posts in the Series:
Part I: Introduction

Five Things Every Liberal Arts College Should Do

…according to Mortimer J. Adler that is, if that college wants to succeed in meeting the goals of a liberal education:

  1. A liberal arts college should not allow any form of special training for specific jobs, vocations, or even learned professions to intrude itself into the curriculum.
  2. A liberal arts college should not provide any elective courses in its curriculum, nor should it afford any opportunities for specialization in particular subject matters.
  3. The faculty of a liberal arts college should not be divided into departmental groups, each representing special competence in some particular subject matter, and narrow interest in some limited field of learning.
  4. No textbooks should be used in a liberal arts college; there should be no lectures in courses; and formal lectures should be kept to the minimum and should, wherever possible, be of such generality that they can be given to the whole student body.
  5. Written examinations, especially of the objective or true-false type, should be eliminated in favor of oral examinations.

To find out why Adler argues for these five recommendations, see his essay, “Liberal Schooling in the Twentieth Century” (1962).

The Elective System: Giving Ignorance a Voice in Education

Because man is viewed as having only an animal career and not a human destiny, interest and adjustment have taken the place of discipline and cultivation as the watchwords of educational policy. The whole aim of education changes, for adjustment lead to the cult of success, the “ideal” of getting ahead by beating your neighbor. The emphasis on the interests of the student makes him a buyer instead of a patient, and the teacher becomes a salesman rather than a doctor prescribing the cure for ignorance and incompetence. It is the student who is the master under the elective system, which was invented because of the excessive proliferation of scientific courses in the curriculum, and has been perpetuated by the perversion of educational policy which makes the young, i.e., the relatively ignorant and incompetent, choose their own road to learning, according to the fickle interests of their immaturity. Extracurricular activities originated in response to interests that were tangential to the main business of education, but in many schools they have become the curriculum, and the substantial studies have been thrown out. They are not even extracurricular. Many college curriculums offer courses A to Z without discrimination; and the university, instead of being a hierarchy of studies and a community of scholars, is a collection of specialists, together only in geographical proximity.

Mortimer J. Adler, Reforming Education, p. 77 (emphasis added)

My Summer Reading List

library-books

With finals marked and all my grades in, I have only a couple faculty meetings left and then summer begins in full-swing. Here’s what’s on my summer reading list this year. I’m sure I’ll read more than what’s here, but here is the plan so far, in no particular order:

  1. The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto by Mortimer J. Adler
  2. The Paideia Program: An Educational Syllabus  by Mortimer J. Adler
  3. Paideia Problems and Possibilities  by Mortimer J. Adler
  4. Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind by Mortimer J. Adler
  5. Portuguese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith
  6. The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs by Alexander McCall Smith
  7. At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances by Alexander McCall Smith
  8. Unusual Uses for Olive Oil by Alexander McCall Smith
  9. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  10. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  11. How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren
  12. The Uses of Pessimism: And the Danger of False Hope by Roger Scruton
  13. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury