Monday, September 26, 2011

FLG's Theory Of Liberal Education

Withywindle points readers to this Timothy Burke post on this column about a professor who no longer wants to teach Military History because the course now has a therapeutic aspect for some students, particular veterans and military families.

Here's a key passage from that article:
Although my course description clearly states that the class is concerned with military history through the Vietnam War, student veterans or their loved ones came to the class primarily to work through personal issues originating in more recent conflicts. Whether the day's discussion centered on the 17th-century European heritage of the American military, or the managerial revolution of the Progressive Era, it became disturbingly evident that many students could only consider historical questions through the lens of their own personal experiences. I do not blame them one bit, and occasionally their personal insights were relevant. But the emotional needs of those students unrelentingly pushed the class in a direction I was not comfortable with as a historian.

Timothy Burke writes in his post:
But I can’t see the good of saying that scholarly knowledge of military history (or anything else) is inevitably at odds with arriving at an understanding that might be therapeutic, might provide some serenity, or at least connect suffering and uncertainty to a wider, richer human range of suffering and understanding. That’s not just something which might happen in the study of history, it’s something which should happen. We make no promises of healing or peace, but we ought to think that scholarly work is a kind of working through, a vastening of the kind of experiences that can trap and isolate us in a lonely misery and confusion. Why should we imagine that scholarly inquiry develops “cognitive skills” and make that development antagonistic to trying to understand the meaning and feeling of human experience here and now?

Since FLG is an irrepressible egotist, this made him think of his post about the purposes of liberal education. To wit:
First, one particular assumption must be disproven. [...] This assumption is: The experiences that constitute my individual life are representative of the entire human condition.

Then, FLG argues that the best outcome that comes from disproving the Big Assumption is:
The third outcome is when the failure of the Big Assumption leads to the never-ending search for the universal in the human condition. Oddly enough, the second step in a liberal education is exactly the same as the first. The student examines ideas, feelings, beliefs, and experiences via literature, philosophy, art, and history, which are so foreign to their own life that they can find what is universally present in the human condition. This is the ultimate goal of a liberal education. I believe the difficulty in recognizing this goal is that both the first and second step are superficially the same activities.

BTW, rereading that liberal education post reminds FLG that he wants to consolidate all his theories in one post for easy reference. That and edit out his weird ramblings that in hindsight he agrees with but make him seem like a bit of a kook, which he is but doesn't want to advertise.

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