Saturday, October 20, 2012

Education vs. Indulgence

An interesting passage from Whewell (Of a Liberal Education in General, p. 7):

The term Education especially implies, by its etymology, that character in the studies of the rising generation which I have attempted to describe: namely, that these studies draw forth and unfold a portion of our common human nature. They educe the elements of the Humanity which we have within us. The studies and occupations of the young are not properly called Education, merely because they draw out something, without considering whether it is an attribute of the race, or an accident of the individual. Young persons may be so employed and so treated, that their caprice, their self-will, their individual tastes and propensities, are educed and developed; but this is not Education. It is not the Education of a Man; for what is educed is not that which belongs to man as man, and connects man with man. It is not the Education of a man's Humanity, but the Indulgence of his Individuality.

He notes in a footnote that the actual etymological history is somewhat obscure; but, of course, he is only using it as a way of building a vocabulary for making his point. One interesting thing about it is that there are a lot of educational philosophies which would not count as educational in Whewell's sense.


  1. SententiaeDeo5:45 PM

    This is the rationale for some liberal arts colleges having a set curriculum for all students, and it sounds like something Bl. Newman would say. This conception of education also advocates studying metaphysics, the science that relates the particular sciences to one another.

  2. branemrys6:19 PM

     Newman was a contemporary of Whewell, so there's definitely a shared cultural context (although Newman was an Oxford man and Whewell a Cambridge man).

  3. SententiaeDeo7:28 PM

    Was Cambridge  more focused on the natural sciences than Oxford back then, do you know? If so, that makes it even more interesting Whewell advocates this understanding of education.

  4. branemrys7:49 PM

    That's a good question. I'm actually not too sure what the general tenor of the universities at that time was, but Whewell is himself a major figure in making Cambridge more natural science focused -- the book is part of an extended and long-running argument by him that liberal arts education should include a significant science and mathematics component. But the basic liberal education at Cambridge, as at Oxford, was Classics and Geometry, and Whewell doesn't want to get rid of this, but to keep it while extending it in a principled way to (for instance) those parts of Newtonian physics that can be handled geometrically.

  5. MrsDarwin1:46 PM

    Oh, I need to read this. I like the definition of education as "studies [which] draw forth and unfold a portion of our common human nature." Now I feel I need to take a good look at the subjects we're studying here to see how closely they hew to this description. I'm particularly interested in his emphasis on education drawing forth something from the student. So often one thinks of educating as trying to cram something into the student, whether facts or technique.

  6. branemrys3:44 PM

     It's an important point, going back to Socrates's characterization of education as maieutic (midwifery -- Maia is the Greek goddess of childbirth) -- the midwife, of course, doesn't have the baby for anyone, but helps them have it in a way that is more safe and comfortable and sure. And I think it's very much something that we've lost.

  7. SententiaeDeo4:59 PM

     Very interesting! Is this reported in Plato's Meno? If not, where? Thanks

  8. branemrys6:20 PM

    It's discussed at greatest length in the Theaetetus (especially 148e and following). It's also mentioned in the Symposium. Certainly the Meno expresses it, but I don't remember it being described as such there; I'd have to go back and look.

  9. Brigittetdarnay2:34 PM

    This is a belated comment to your "reaction" to Mrs. Darwin's comment on 10/20/2012.
    I wish to assure you that the practice of midwifery and the benefits accrued to mother and baby are NOT lost.  Not even here in the United States.  A nearby hospital here in the Detroit area has just recently been awarded the designation "Baby-Friendly Birthing Facility".  The revival of midwifery here in the US, though still not yet very widespread, is to be welcomed, indeed.  There are numerous such facilities in Michigan alone and many more in other states.  This global initiative, originated by UNICEF/WHO, has taken root quite rapidly in California.  
    Our own daughter, a Nurse Midwife at such a BFH Hospital in Paris, has herself given birth under these baby-friendly conditions to four of our grandchildren there.
    Not everything we call progress is better for humanity; this latest movement is perhaps a necessary return to a more natural practice in Obstetrics.

  10. branemrys3:54 PM

    That's definitely good to know.

  11. SententiaeDeo6:04 PM

    Yes, the reason why midwifery isn't common now was due in large part to doctors' campaigns against them, their competitors.


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