Educators negotiate between two related but distinct demands: (1) the need to preserve knowledge and (2) the need to prepare students to apply knowledge. While complementary in education, the two are not necessarily closely linked. In the United States, they have become distant from each other at all levels of intellectual labor. I have been circling this issue, not quite making progress until I found myself talking about Thomas Kuhn over on the Archdruid Report. There is a way to frame the issue historically in reference to the Enlightenment that clarifies the basis for the present-day disjoint between these two demands. I want to talk through that in the hopes that better grasping that provides us with some insight into fixing the disjunction today.
I haven’t stopped chewing over the topic of my last post; it opens onto quite a few topics that I would like to write about here. Rather than try to cram all of those topics into a single post, though, I have decided to break them out into a loose series of posts that will all be identified with the [CPE] tag you see above. As you might guess, all of these posts will be united around issues of cosmos, paradigm, and education. Education may seem like the odd-man-out in this equation, but it occupies an essential place in the discussion. This series began in what I thought would be a single post on the failures of contemporary education, but in proceeding to trace that I found myself involved in a much larger series of topics.
The failures of contemporary education have deep roots that extend back into the roots of European modernity itself. It is surely easy to be cynical about the state of contemporary education (and I am sometimes), but I don’t want to get stuck in cynicism. Rather, I want to examine the failures of education by vieiwing them as a sort of higher order ‘interesting errors.’ Like interesting errors, they are worthy of study so that we can see more clearly the way in which those failures reveal useful truths as an ill-fitting pair of clothes reveals something of how we move. One of the more important failures is the failure to integrate cosmos and paradigm.
By cosmos I mean a totality organized according to unified principles and the sense of enclosure it gives to human society. The sense of a cosmos gives members of society a set of ideals through which they are able to regulate themselves and their society. A paradigm, by contrast, is partial. It refers to a specific set of phenomena and proceeds to provide an explanation of the phenomena’s behavior. On a purely conceptual level, these two patterns do not appear to be in conflict. In fact, there seems to be a complementarity to the way in which the phenomena described by a paradigm can be integrated into a bigger picture, cosmological model. However, in historical terms, these two modes of approaching the world are deeply at odds with each other and efforts to resolve those tensions are part of what structures the failure of education.
The subsequent [CPE] posts will all be centered at getting at this historical conundrum and thinking (i.e., speculating) about how we might get beyond it.
This post begins in two disparate observations, but comes together around a common issue. The first observation is that there is a common misreading of Marx that portrays him as believing that nature has no value in and of itself. The second observation is that efforts to justify anthropology’s distinctiveness as a discipline are terribly unpersuasive to me. These two observations bring me to discuss what constitutes an intellectual discipline. I’ll talk about the two observations first, which should make clear how they lead me to the issue of justifying a discipline.
I wonder how well our current mindset about education in the U.S. really serves our needs. We seem to overdo it a bit in thinking that more education, by which we mean more time spent in educational institutions, is better than less. While there are many careers that genuinely demand a great deal of education, there are many that do not. Most people end up in careers for which a solid high school education would be ample preparation.
[4/2/2012: Heavily revised to articulate the argument of this short essay in a more general fashion. Previous version relied over-much on a very narrow discussion of witch hunts going on in the online pagan community.]
One of the difficulties in making sense of the reports of Nigerian witch hunting rests not just on our inability to access the ‘life on the ground,’ but also on the presuppositions we bring to terms like ‘witch hunt.’ For those of us with roots in the European world, we have the cultural baggage of the Enlightenment to deal with as well.
On a whim, I pulled an old reader off my shelf, Greek and Roman Philosophy after Aristotle, and flipped through it until I alighted on some selection that captured my interest. I found two selections, both from figures living in Alexandria, albeit separated by centuries, Philo and Clement of Alexandria. Clement cites Philo freely, so it’s no wonder that there is an affinity between the two figures.
There is a vital chord in both of their works, some untimely song that rises above the merely contemporary dimension of their work. Since one good whim led me to read them, I figure I’ll follow a second whim and just post my very first efforts to sketch out that chord. It may not make sense to anyone but me. At least it will make it easier for me to find these notes later.
So, I’ve been enjoying reading and thinking about things kind of historically lately. You know one of the things I enjoy most about reading history? Because it helps me remain intellectually humble. When you read good historical accounts of religious movements, you discover how diverse they are, how much variation lies between and within them.
Better yet, you start to get a sense that those movements and what they serve aren’t all that stable. They change, in relation to other movements (religious and otherwise) and in relation to the life experience of their members, especially of their clergy. The variation isn’t alien to devotion, but proper to it, the natural result of each person, each group, living the truth of their encounters with the divine.