3.127 education and universities, cont. (143)

Thu, 15 Jun 89 22:10:25 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 127. Thursday, 15 Jun 1989.

(1) Date: Wed, 14 Jun 89 17:38:16 EDT (7 lines)
From: David Megginson <MEGGIN@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Faust and higher learning

(2) Date: Thu, 15 Jun 89 08:40:39 CDT (15 lines)
From: "Michael S. Hart" <HART@UIUCVME>
Subject: Re: 3.118 education and universities (56)

(3) Date: Thu, 15 Jun 89 09:57:20 EDT (96 lines)
From: Brian Whittaker <BRIANW@YORKVM2>
Subject: Re: 3.118 education and universities (56)

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 14 Jun 89 17:38:16 EDT
From: David Megginson <MEGGIN@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Faust and higher learning

As graduate students, we sell our souls daily to pay the rent. The
universities may have made a deal with the horned guy in the red satin
suit, but those who signed are not necessarily those who will pay.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------24----
Date: Thu, 15 Jun 89 08:40:39 CDT
From: "Michael S. Hart" <HART@UIUCVME>
Subject: Re: 3.118 education and universities (56)

If Michael Oakeshott is of any more than a passing acquaitance of Yale,
who published his book, it should be relatively easy to provide a method
for him to join in this discussion.

My first contrubution to such a discussion is to relate that the deans
at my academic institutions were open enough to tell me that their MAIN
PURPOSE IS SOCIALIZATION and even today, I am sure I have not perceived
the full impact of that statement.

I may also add, however, that this goal is also that of the major portion
of the students.
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------103---
Date: Thu, 15 Jun 89 09:57:20 EDT
From: Brian Whittaker <BRIANW@YORKVM2>
Subject: Re: 3.118 education and universities (56)

The perception of a new Faustian contract between universities and
government may be appropriate in the context of the ancient and heavily
endowed institutions like Oxford and Cambridge, which until recently
seem to have enjoyed virtual independence from governmental interference
and are now experiencing a level of interest that appears quite
Californian. In places like Ontario, on the other hand, the less ancient
tradition has been for universities to maintain their independence
within the context of government funding and chartering, and to experience
interference most accutely as a direct consequence of other sources of funding,
whether from churches or industry. One thinks of professors at church-
affiliated units within a public university being cashiered for heresy
(perhaps an anachronistic term, perhaps not) or research grants from
industries with Pentagon contracts having either explicit or implicit
conditions regarding the nationality of graduate students allowed to work
on the project.

Less colourfully, one might also worry about university-based
research in computer-related areas where the provision of hardware,
software or grants by a major software or hardware company may be contingent
on guarding the resulting program codes as industrial secrets, a clear
contradiction of the academic principle that research is validated by a process
that begins by publishing the details of data, methodology and results so that
other researchers can repeat the experiment or the analysis. The importance
of this principle has been reinforced with the recent fusion experiments in
the United States and by the publication here in Canada of a study arguing for
a genetic basis for racial superiority. The fusion results have been questioned
on the grounds that a detailed repetition of the experiments does not
consistently yield the same observations. The paper on racial superiority has
been questioned on the grounds that the data is of questionable reliability.
One might wonder what the scholarly reaction might have been if the researchers
in question had withheld details of their data and methodology on the grounds
of industrial secrecy. In our own area of the humanities, I wonder how many
humanists would accept a new reading of the Aeneid based on a secret manuscript
available only to the author of the article, or a stylistic analysis of
Paradise Lost using a grammatical model that could not be disclosed to the

On the question of the product put out by the universities, the idea that
reading the right kind of books and associating with the right kind of people
will produce the right kind of citizen may be more firmly entrenched in
England than elsewhere... even in the never-ending wake of the Burgess/
Maclean/Philby/ and so on ... saga. This tradition has put its own skew on
scholarship. A few years ago I stumbled on the Penguin translation of Plato's
-Protagoras_, in which "politike arete", the prowess appropriate to a member
of the polis (in contrast to the older "arete" or prowess of the warrior),
was translated as "excellence", with a consequent shift of focus from skills
to character. Where Plato's _Protagoas_ is an urban epic, with Socrates as
an Achilles of debate, the Penguin _Protagoras_ lies somewhere between
_Culture and Anarchy_ and _Tom Brown's Schooldays_, with the debate
centring on how to produce the right sort of person. I have also encountered
an American translation of Machiavelli's _The Prince- which was
similarly doctored to turn the original "mirror" of the fall of disastrous
princes, including Cesare Borgia as the most disastrous of them all, into a
study of realpolitik.(One might have thought that_Le Machiavel_ had been enough
of that.)

Perhaps as a result of the tradition of pragmatism (both small and capital p)
in North America, perhaps as a result of an explicit German influence in the
early formation of curriculum, education in Ontario has a history of being
explicitly oriented towards skills at the lower levels and methodology at the
higher levels.

One might speculate on whether the fashion for "general education" courses such
as Humanities, Social Science, Natural Science, or simply Great Books, that
swept Universities in the late sixties and early seventies, was a move towards
the model of producing the "right sort" of citizen, with the emphasis in many
of these courses on teaching "values" as content. This is the Jiminy Cricket
model of higher education in which the good citizen, in a moment of ethical
crisis,asks "What did that Greek guy who got poisoned in the third week of my
humanities course say about this sort of thing?" The current move away from
this model is interesting, not so much for the dropping of General Education
requirements in some universities and faculties, as for justifying their
retention in others on the grounds that they teach basic writing skills
(better than English courses, presumably), basic reasoning skills (better
than logic or philosophy courses, presumably) and basic research skills
(better than discipline-oriented courses, presumably). This shift in the
stated function of General Education courses, where they have survived,
would seem to support my hypothesis that the dominant strain in university
education in Ontario has been and still is oriented toward method rather
than character.

It would be interesting to hear how these issues are perceived elsewhere.
I would be particularly interested in hearing from France, Germany, and
other non-English speaking countries. The debate over educational theory
and prcatice moves quite freely around the English-speaking world, but we
have little dialoge with other cultures in these matters.

Brian Whittaker
Atkinson College, York University
Downsview, Ontario