Thursday, August 5, 2010

Classical Education Comments - part 2

Over the summer, I had a chance to review the 500+ comments that were left for a NY Times articles titled A Classical Education: Back to the Future. The article was much less interesting than the comments. This is the second part of a three-part blog post (part1, part3) with some of the more pithy comments:
  • The humanities attempt to educate the whole person, to create a Mensch, not just a cog in the big stupid machine we call an economy. Mere utilitarian criteria in education lead to an intellectually and morally impoverished existence - the recent efflorescence of greed, corruption and bankruptcy of moral values is a good example. What is the value of art, literature, music, or for that matter, friendship? They are the crown jewels of a human life, that's all. [comment #155]
  • Education cannot prepare anyone for all the complex, specific issues they will encounter throughout life. But a good education can give people the analytical tools and historical precedents they need to navigate through an increasingly dynamic and complex world. A classical education just happens to provide a known, proven vehicle to those necessary life skills. There is a reason why most of the people who run this country had one, and why the wealthy push their children to obtain one. [comment #160]
  • Being Classically educated makes you critical, inquisitive, thoughtful and open-minded. It's hard to reach a final conclusion on the truly complex debates ongoing in the world if you're well-educated enough to apprehend these issues in a truly multi-dimensional way. American public life is ill-suited to someone standing up and saying, "I may not be correct, but here's what I think right now. I'm not fully committed to my conclusions because this is a big idea and the ethics attaching to it are similarly complex." [comment #161]
  • Some people in education have seen this shift as an opportunity to spend more time teaching thought processes and reasoning. The problem is that in order to teach reasoning, you need facts to reason about. If students have not memorized enough facts, they will have empty minds, and will be unable to learn understanding. [comment #165]
  • We don't use education to teach in this country. We don't expect or want our children to ask questions. If they do, they may ask some very uncomfortable questions. One of the reasons we don't have national standards is because we can't agree on what we want our children to learn. Teachers are expected to teach all of these children. They are not allowed to discipline children since it might damage their self esteem. They are afraid to be alone with their pupils in case of an accusation such as sexual abuse. Teachers are not allowed to decide the best way of teaching a class or pupil. The public thinks that teachers have a cushy job and doesn't want to pay them what they are worth. Children sense this sort of disrespect and may feel that they don't have to learn from someone in a professions that others despise. If we want to educate citizens we have to start respecting those who do the educating. If we want average students to succeed we need to expect more. Average should not be a euphemism for failure. [comment #167]
  • Even here, a tiny liberal arts college supposedly renowned for it, there doesn't tend to be much intellectual adventurousness. majors stick with fellow majors, tend to blow off required courses as a pain to slog through. As cynical as this sounds, I've seen very few people take classes without some ulterior motive that generally has nothing to do with the noble educational philosophy every college spins a good yarn about. [comment #168]
  • It's worth noting that the classical curriculum developed and persisted at a time when science was pretty much limited to arithmetic and geometry. Centuries later, I see no reason why science, rather than literature, cannot be used to develop the logical "grammatical" and empirical judgment necessary for citizenship and life guidance. [comment #169]
  • I live in Massachusetts, where the debate in educational circles is whether to join the new national standards because they are lower than those that Mass. has set for its students. It has been almost 18 years since Mass. passed Education Reform which started its testing program. It is important to note that the testing program was accompanied by a rigorous construction educational standards for each grade. While not a classroom teacher, I have been closely observing the curriculum that my children have been receiving and I have been impressed with what they have been receiving in the public schools in math and English. I was not surprised that when Mass. students took the TIMSS international assessment tests and competed as it's own "country", our 4th graders scored second in math, behind Singapore and Hong Kong, and tied with japan and Taiwan. Our 8th graders scored similarly. [comment #173]
  • I agree wholeheartedly with Fish's view of a classical education. But I'm not sure he would agree that it's not so much the specific information that of great value, although often useful for further learning, but the intellectual struggle with abstract information processing. It appears that technology has fooled us into thinking we don't need these skills anymore. Unfortunately, with so little respect left for education in the U.S., and so few people in charge who were educated in the style that Fish describes, it's hard to imagine how we'll be able to reverse the trend. [comment #212]
  • Nothing will improve until teaching becomes a prestige profession: something to which the most intellectually gifted aspire, something studied only in extremely competitive and selective institutions, something that will reward significantly the few who have both the talent and drive to succeed. When teachers are regarded as doctors, or lawyers, or (God forbid) sports heroes or American Idol contestants are regarded, then education - and our students - might have a chance. [comment #238]
  • I attended and later taught at Classical High. Our present system teaches students to rely on formulas and not the ability to think and reason. [Comment #245]
  • For the vast majority of people, pop culture is as deep as they intend to go in understanding the modern world. [comment #246]
  • I also wonder what audience Fish might be addressing. Yes, the testing craze has little to do with authentic education; however, Fish must understand that the first generation children he grew up with bear some but not a major resemblance to many of today's students. Think "Blackboard Jungle" with iPods and cell phones, in classrooms with thirty-five or forty students. Imagine an eleventh grade class, half of whom do not read at a ninth grade level of comprehension. Imagine kids for whom Homer means Homer Simpson. [comment #253]
  • Perhaps it's the Classical education (I graduated in '68), but it has always struck me that humanity cannot progress intellectually or technologically--and no, those terms are not synonymous--unless the leaders of society have themselves acquired WISDOM. Yet wisdom cannot be gained by exclusively studying business, engineering, or computer science, or even law. Indeed, wisdom comes only by mastering knowledge that would, if disaster struck and humanity were largely wiped out, allow whoever is left to reinvent our civilization. [comment #255]
  • The truth is that Classical was an intellectual boot camp with some teachers who were tough enough to chew up and spit out drill sergeants. There was a quiz in every class every day. They were graded and handed back, frequently with very critical remarks on them. There was homework in every class every day. During my freshman year, our algebra teacher assigned two hundred problems to be done over Christmas vacation. We were told to spend three hours per night on homework but, in my case at least, that was a vast underestimate. In the English courses, students were required to write one major composition per week. In English and history, students were called on to stand up and answer questions in front of everyone else. There was no place to hide. In my junior and senior years, we had not only to do the regular homework assignments but extra term papers in English and history and an extra project in science. But, I did not learn the ablative absolute. I learned to work. I learned that I had to sit down with a book and pound ideas into my head. I learned that memorization, while it might be painful, was also useful. I learned that there were other people in the world who were smart and tough and I had to work to keep up with them. I learned that grades were not important. I learned that learning how to learn was important. Yet, even with the above complaints, it was a good place to learn. [comment #259]
  • Why is it that when the finger pointing and blaming begin, there is a tendency to look back on "the classics" and "days of yore" and to assert that if only today's generation were educated in "real classical education"? More importantly, why is it that it is always the older generation who believes what should be or what is better. I am 29, and the Classics bored the be-Jesus out of me. They certainly have their place, but learning for me is more than what the Classics, or whatever the older generations believe them to be, can supposedly offer. Contemporary education can make its mark if given a chance, including the opportunity to let go of what has been and take risks of what education could be for today's generation. [comment #265]
  • Why is this education question an eternal issue in America? How to educate seems to be FOREVER up in the air, a big unknown, mysterious, unsolvable. How many PhD's in education does it take? We already spend more per pupil than every country in the world, so don't bring up money. Such a weird dilemma that I am finally at a loss for words. [comment #268]
  • I do agree with the professor's conclusion: tell students where they are going. For me, students' motivation is essential in learning process. Cooperative learning, active learning can improve students results and lower teacher's load. [comment #274]
  • The sad truth is that it takes an awful lot of intelligence and an awful lot of hard work to teach the liberal arts, and an awful lot of intelligence and an awful lot of hard work to learn the liberal arts. You have "education majors" who are not educated and "students" who cannot and will not study. Oh, there are lots of reasons for each, depending on your political affiliations, but that's the bottom line. And nobody wants to say, "I just don't have it", because then you would have to go out into the tough world and actually find what you DO have, or create it. And that's what the Trivium and Quadrivium are all about: ways to negotiate the world of one's parents in order to create a world of one's own. Difficult, difficult stuff. Easier to suck on an iPod than create a new way to use it. [comment #275]
  • As recommended by these authors, Waldorf schools keep technology out of the classroom until 8th grade - at which point the students disassemble and reassemble a computer, write their own programs and debug them [comment #276]
  • I agree that a classical education has value, both to the individual and to society. The decline of the "classics" in education over the past three or four decades has produced citizens lacking in literacy, historical knowledge, the ability to think and reason clearly, and a foundation for morality. No doubt this has paved the way for the mindless consumerism and created opportunities for greedy and amoral entrepreneurs to develop and market destructive hardware, software, and lifestyles to easily-controlled minds. [comment #261]
  • This talk about "Classical Education" is and always has been code for rolling back history to the time when The West was Great and the rest of the world was inconsequential. What say we come up with a multi-cultural, multi-faith curriculum more befitting the demands of the 21st century! [comment #282]
  • There is a hidden message in all education and educational systems; you are small and unimportant, knowledge is large, long lasting and it is there for you to attempt, however pitifully, to master. It is easy, then, to bury oneself in the search for knowledge and miss the goal by a million miles. At what point does the student become enabled, or allowed, to rise above the material and seek to draw or assert his/her own conclusions or ideas? Perhaps never. The goal is always to study, always to submit before the presumed body of knowledge that has been assembled. [comment #292]
  • As a cognitive neuroscientist who started out with 5 years of Latin at the University of British Columbia, I strongly support every effort to introduce young people to the pleasures and challenges that accompany the study of the complex issues initially addressed by our classic predecessors. Only then will contemporary students be able to distinguish the heuristic value of those early attempts to understand the human condition from their great limitations. I caution against teaching that the classics provide the final answer to our search. [comment #298]
  • My daughter spent the extra year in high school in the international baccalaureate (IB) program. She moaned and groaned at the time, saying that it would be of no help in her desired field of study, graphic design. It was intense, and included a year-long course on the theory of knowledge, and requirements for social work and courses from different subject areas: sciences, languages, social studies, and math. I don't think I ever worked as hard in school or my undergrad and graduate degrees as I saw her work. Was it worth it? A full two years into her undergraduate work, one day my daughter said," I'm sure glad that I did IB. I am way ahead of my friends and classmates. I can think." [comment #300]
  • Yes, I agree with Mr. Fish. Give the students the basics and they will do well. Also, important to give them support. I teach AP classes but also regular classes of American History and I told them I expect a great deal from them. Many of these students met the challenges. So I think if we expect them to do the work, they will do the work. [comment #302]
  • But Dr. Fish, you forget, we're not (e.g.) South Korea, where teaching is an honorable profession. here in the United States, we screen out the bottom 15% of teacher hopefuls and take the rest. Being a lawyer, a medical professional, a manager - these are the professionals to aspire to. [comment #304]
  • Isn't it somewhat ironic to have a system teach that the goal is to make as much money as possible when those within the system (and the system itself) can earn relatively little. [comment #305]
  • I disagree with most of what was said . First, most of us leave college in need of a job that can pay the rent, help us start and support a family, and pay back our monstrous school loans. The Sunday Jobs section has many jobs for people who know C++, Excel, and Objective-C, but very few for anyone who can explicate Rousseau, Plato and Milton. Professors make a mistake by assuming that the skill set they need for tenure is the same set the rest of us need to make ends meet. Our workaday lives -- 40 to 60 hours a week in jobs like accounting, database management, and customer service -- require us to speak FileMaker and Microsoft, not Hegel and Habermas. [comment #308]
  • The new flavor of the year for education being proposed here is "classical". Ravitch, who was into fads, now claims to turn against them without owning up to her part in the fadism. What is not understood is that it takes a culture to teach a student, more than a school. Our culture teaches anti-intellectualism, celebrity obsession, what matters is the bottom line, "Jesus" (or other "God" nonsense) and then we're surprised when students don't want to learn. The cultural messages and the economic priorities of this country are the causes of our problems. And by the way, "classical" education was in the past only for an elite; we do better than we did then, for we educate a whole lot of people to a higher level than ever before. Our country has always only educated the elite to a high level. Now we also educate a whole lot of people to a medium level, which in fact is a great advantage. [comment #313]