Thursday, May 03, 2007

What of Education?

A once-been, broken up, has-been, trying to getbacktogether again and beee somebody again band, "Rage Against the Machine" prompted an article in the San Jose Mercury News. It is pretty much a throw away article full of exhibitions of pathetic attention seeking Bush Derangement Syndrome, but arresting to me because of the response of one of the fans quoted in it.

Rafael Ramon, 25, a History Teacher, History mind you, has an interesting quote in the article. Interesting, in the way that the contents of Jeffrey Dahmers refrigerator would be interesting.

"They changed my life. They made me a liberal," said sweat-drenched history teacher Rafael Ramon, 25, who had waited in a crowd packed shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the stage all day."
They changed my life. They made me a liberal.

This from a History Teacher, presumably teaching the youth of San Jose, about the important points of history, and the importance of ideas to their lives, the importance of good sound ideas and principles - and how history shows the effects of those ideas being applied, or misapplied to make - history.

"Stomping, shouting into his microphone, grabbing his curly hair and inciting the audience to "keep fighting," de la Rocha powered through songs… He also railed against the war in Iraq and likened Bush administration officials to Nazi war criminals. "This current administration is no exception. They should be tried and hung and shot," he said”
The 'music' and the ideas contained in them, of these intellectual pissants, were somehow able to cause a college graduate, and teacher of History to say "They changed my life. They made me a liberal."

What in the hell is that about?

This 'Teacher' went to a college of some sort, presumably graduated, and was hired for the fruits of his education. Just what in the hell did that education consist of, and how is it that such an education left one of it's educated open to having his political philosophy influenced, well... forget influenced - flat out Determined by a cheesy rock band? Or by any band, for that matter whether from the A, B or C list.

What was it that was passed off as an education to this kid? And how did those balls-of-brass con men turned Deans and Administrators, manage to pass it off as an education and collect $20,000 to $50,000 - or more, much more - for it? And remain not only free and clear, but not even pursued?

No matter where you find yourself on the political spectrum, how does that not raise your hackles? How do you defend that? What is this thing, 'Education', and how can it be so worthless as to not even be able to stand up to the 'work' of a rock band? Or worse yet, find no conflict between it's 'work', and the bands 'work'?

At this point though, one question should be clanging through your head, what is an Education? What is this product so easily packaged and sold by packaging and price alone? What do parents think they are buying their children? Putting into their children?

Is it for Skills? 'Go to college, learn a skill'? 'Go to college and get ahead'?

I wonder if any of them are aware of what Aristotle said about those that are skilled? He said that those who merely operate by way of others instructions and ideas for their motivation and actions, are fit only for slaves. Did Rafael Ramon's parents know this? Do you? Are you in the least bit interested in whether he had a point in saying that? Do they, or their educated children, or you, even know of Aristotle?

Now, knowing what Aristotle said upon one point or another, is of no value in and of itself except as impressive cocktail party blather, but Understanding his point, is of inestimable value to your very mortal soul. It is in that way, that knowing Aristotle is of value. It is in that way that Prof. Robinson was familiar with him. He described that sense of familiarity as "a friend of his that he went to school with, who died in 322 b.c., by the name of Aristotle", I doubt Ramon ever knew him in this way. I suspect he would have had a different process for determining his political philosophy, if he had.

But still, what is it? I've heard the process of educating described as taking a Whole from where it exists within one person, a teacher, and transmitting it into the mind of another, a student, piece by piece, and helping them to reassemble the parts within themselves - I kind of like that description (from Leonard Piekoff) - but that is not Education itself, but only transmitting, teaching, some part of it.

I suppose the easy answer, which will have to do for the moment, is that of Liberal Education, of imparting that knowledge which is essential for making you a free man. It's limited, but we'll try to flesh it out over the next few posts.

I think I can say with confidence that whatever an education is, education is not that which enables a random rock band to influence the course of your life, views and deepest beliefs about self and society. If what you bought as an education for your children leaves them open for that to happen, I suggest you seek police assistance. If their education gives them no deeper foundation than for their 'ideas' to change under the sway of bar band music, their mental structure is in peril of the first storm to come along.

Is It Just Learning?
As John Cardinal Henry Newman pointed out long ago, in 'What Is a University?', that any competent person, reading a decent selection of books, will be able to discover the fundamental Core principles governing any subject, but it is only through a knowledgeable guide, a true Teacher, of sound and wide education himself, pointing to the wider applications and implications of a subject and it's principles, that he will be able to make that learning run wide and deep within the student fortunate enough to have such a Teacher.

Unfortunately, most people such as myself, who having received a public education can personally attest to having experienced the absence of such a teacher, and can say that I miss having had such a teacher very much - but in their absence, we do what we can.

But even so, it is those core principles, unfleshed out though they may be, which are the key to that education which contains and builds upon them. Its value stands or falls with their support. It doesn't so much matter if they are adorned with fine looking and sounding elaborations, derivations or decorations, if the core principles are false, rotten, corrupt - the add-ons are but lipstick on a pig. One hundred fine sounding things... if placed upon one principle which undercuts them, which gives a deeper contradictory meaning to their spin, or if any clear honest application of it plainly will counter those 'finer' aspects - it is worthless. In fact, it is worse than worthless, it is worth-corrosive. It will not only not add to your knowledge, it will actually degrade what other legitimate knowledge you might still have, setting you against that which is valid.

Kant said many fine sounding things. But he also said, or implied, many substantial, unfine things - things which sew the soil of your fertile mind with salt and lye. That is the nature of principles - they either support and build up, or disintegrate and tear down. He is not however, and I think by design, someone who can be summarized briefly - yet, if the motivation of true learning and education can be said to be the love of truth and the pursuit of wisdom, what does it say of a philosopher and of his philosophy, when he has stated his guiding light to have been "I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith" (from his preface to "Critique of Pure Reason").


Rousseau, Kant's muse, dwelled upon perversion, degradation, and horrid thoughts towards his fellows. Of his five children, with his illiterate mistress, he sent them all away to a foundling hospital, something less than an 'orphanage', who's record indicated they would not live beyond a few years, and they didn't. Reportedly, not a one. One after another. They were born, they were sent (over the protests of their mother), and they died. Such was his love for children and their vaunted innocence.

Is this the type of person you want to consult as to a fruitful education? As a guide for living and realizing a Good Life? Do you realize that he is the root influence of all of modern education? If Virtue can be taught, is it likely to be taught from the likes of this?

Can Virtue be taught?
Can Virtue be taught? This was Socrates’ burning question, and he (and Plato) thought that his dialectic could discover Truth & Virtue, and having once discovered the Good, a mind wouldn't turn away from it and do what was not Good - but for all of his dialogs questioning, I don't think even he was satisfied with his answers. Aristotle thought that Virtue was the result of an habituation towards virtuous actions, and could not directly be taught, only guided towards developing those habituations.

But in a related area, that of an audience viewing a play, a Tragedy, he also thought that Tragedy imparted a beneficial cathartic effect upon the audience - and just what that cathartic effect was, has had people puzzled for 2,500 years. What was the cathartic effect, and was it useful for more than purging the audience of pent up emotions?

Personally, I think these questions are closely related. As I've mentioned before, I think our brains are integrating machines, driven by our minds in order to discover truth, and rewarded with variously charged 'Aha!' experiences along the way. When we learn, integrate new information, we get a little 'aha!', bigger ones with conclusions, larger still with larger issues - we even get that charge, like a lab rat getting it's cheese for completing the maze, when we experience laughter - the unexpected integration of ideas and events, logical only in light of an unusual situation. The more unexpected, the broader and more sudden the integration of the punch line, the more our bellies roll or ache with the LAHA!ughter.

When we see a tragedy, a drama, a comedy, a neighbor conduct himself towards some end - positive or negative, our minds operate similarly, and though perhaps not with pleasant results, we get the cheese (stinky brie possibly) all the same. We see, record, connect and integrate the details good or bad, registering their completion with laughter, satisfaction or pain.

A play affords us the opportunity to see in an immediately graspable span of time, how one thing, one action, one thought can lead to others and spawn events, leading to success or devastation - and we are able to conclude, to tie together those, with a sensation similar to answering a riddle - a completion, a finishing integration, that is both pleasurable, and educative. The more principles they touch upon, the more significant they are, the deeper the connections made or reinforced.

But such spectatorship reaches only so deep, and is only wound so tight.

The lesson, the integration experienced at a distance, is only surface deep. It takes applying that lesson, in as many of it's many shades as possible, to other areas of your life, takes putting it into action in words, discussion, and physical deeds, to reach deeper, and wind them together wider and tighter.

Repetition being key. An habituation towards virtuous actions, in thought, manner and deed.

Do Textbooks accomplish any of this? Does anyone think they do? Bubble tests? Consciousness raising lab projects?

Can Virtue be taught? I think that the recognition of Virtue can be taught. An intellectual understanding of Virtue can be taught. A real world map of Virtue super imposed upon the landscape of life can be taught and passed to a student - but for it to be of Value, of difference to the life of that student, it must be applied, followed in fact - on foot, not just by tracing the path upon paper - it must be lived, and lived consciously in manners and chores, in deeds done together with thought, in order to be sufficiently Learned.

Students like the hapless Rafael Ramon, might have had a better chance, if they were told that the facts and figures they were learning weren't the purpose of learning them, but only a useful means towards learning larger lessons. Skills resulting from self development - not end goals in themselves. Of course that might be more likely to happen, if their teachers understood it. What Virtue applies to 2+2=4? A Good Teacher (a Marva Collins, perhaps), would teach that Virtues, such as dilligence, fortitude, temperance and their benefits, derived from working to develop an understanding of mathematics, or of Grammar, or Football - they are means to an end, because the End cannot CAN NOT be realized, except through the actions of worthy means. These are the lessons that should be emphasized while teaching the stadard lessons to those kids - that the work that they are doing is producing Virtue in them, then and there - the mathematics or other course is a process for that, if they but grasp it.

If the teachers but grasped it. If the teacher grasped it, and made the student aware of it, and the student chose to accept, give weight to, and seek to apply these lessons in and to their lives. If... if they chose one way and not another, the beneficial road, not the easy road... if...if they knew the importance of choosing.

And in the end, it does always come down to freewill - and the choice to exercise it - or not.

Can Vice be Taught?
I think Yes. And easier still. And worse, it can be learned. But more of this later.


Mizz E said...

On Habituation:

"As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives."
~Henry David Thoreau

Rick said...

Delicately place your coffee down.

All set?


Rafael meant to say, “Classical Liberal”.

What a comparison, eh?

But seriously, I don’t believe him.
He started out as a liberal.
He showed up a liberal.
There was no “making” what was already made.

And to think I almost counted him as the first conservative to convert to liberal.
I haven’t met one yet. I don’t think it’s possible to get stupider.
I was a lib once (and a broken record about it). Am I stupider?

Actually, I’m not done with him. I don’t think he is a history teacher. He’s making it up.
I mean there is just no way. A great number of books must have been kept from him, include the US Constitution, Declaration of Independence; you know where I’m going.
You can’t be a history teacher, and not love history, and then treat it that way (in his own words). Not a history teacher in my book.

I guess his degree could be in the history of pastry though, say, Ring-Ding history. Then he’s off the hook.

Fine, fine post by the way.

By the way, I think you can teach virtue. But you have to get to the kid before anybody else.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Excellent post, Van!
I can easily remember the handful of public school teachers that knew how to do their vocation.
Without them I probably wouldn't have learned history, math, science, engish/lit and music.
Those outstanding teachers got me INTERESTED.
Not only in the subjects but in thinking for myself, critical thinking, deductive reasoning, research, etc..
My history teacher would often say, "don't take my word for it. Do some research and establish the truth yourself. List references.
Why are many references reliable, and some aren't, etc..

Unfortunately, some history teachers can be corrupted. If they learn to view truth as absolutely relative, and therefore unreliable, then they teach that history is always recorded by the victors (and thus, always subjective to opinion.
That's why there are a growing number of college history students and teachers that are denying the Holocaust. Or downplaying it.

It's not logical, and doesn't make a lick of sense, and it is hard to believe until you hear these leftist and revisionist "histerical historians" speak.
And they are always fighting to change history.
How sick is that?

Rick said...

I hear ya Ben. And I agree.
But like I sort of said, then they’re not historians in my book so I won’t acknowledge them that way. They are rewriters. They are a contradiction within term. If someone says 2+2=5, he doesn’t get to call himself a mathematician, just because he’s using numbers. That’s not math.
I think we agree on each of our points, they’re just slightly different points.
As a matter of fact, let’s raise a pint to our points.

Van Harvey said...

Thought I better stop on in, pick up the newspapers from the driveway, bring in the mail, change which lights are left burning all day & night...

Mizzee - Thoreau was an odd one, much of what he had to say was spot on, as with the quote you ref'd, and then much else was food for Ghandi.... An odd duck (tastes great with the right sauce though).

Ben & Ricky, yeah I think we're all right on that one. Still, at no other time in modern history would someone willingly admit, even boast that they got their philosophy from tunes they heard played in a bar. Astounding.

And Ben, yes there are a few good Public Teacher's out there, but they are in a minority. My 18 yr old has two of them this year that are quite good, and I can think of three that he's had over the years.

My 14 and 8 yr old's have none above barely adequate at the moment, and only one each over their years in school to date.

Very depressing.