A Quote. Of Liberal Education.

St. John’s College knows, along with many others:

In a half-dozen classrooms they gather then,—here to follow the love-song of Dido, here to listen to the tale of Troy divine; there to wander among the stars, there to wander among men and nations,—and elsewhere other well-worn ways of knowing this queer world. Nothing new, no time-saving devices,—simply old time-glorified methods of delving for Truth, and searching out the hidden beauties of life, and learning the good of living. The riddle of existence is the college curriculum that was laid before the Pharaohs, that was taught in the groves by Plato, that formed the trivium and quadrivium, and is today laid before the freedmen’s sons by Atlanta University. And this course of study will not change; its methods will grow more deft and effectual, its content richer by toil of scholar and sight of seer; but the true college will ever have one goal,—not to earn meat, but to know the end and aim of that life which meat nourishes.

—Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, “Of the Wings of Atalanta” (1903)

A Reflection. Of My Students.

I look at my class of students, at the youth hard at work, at these brothers and sisters—my wards and my keepers—and I think, “Could they be wooed by the spirit and not by the dollar? Could they fight for the neighbor and not for the cause? Could they hope in things unseen and not in days gone by?”

A Maxim. An Explication. Of the Concept of Engagement in Education.

[Y]ou cannot strangle a man when you are desirous of hearing what he has to say next.

—Gary Willis*

As soon as my eyes scanned this line, I put the book down. My thoughts shifted to my conversations with many classroom teachers about the difficulty of classroom management and, more precisely, the hostility that results from the concept of management whenever other humans are involved.

Education gurus, in an attempt to escape this hostility, have hijacked the word engagement to offer an alternate approach that has some of the same effects: the teacher must present the lesson in such a way that students are or feel “engaged” in it and so wish to step through its procedures. Classroom management, according to this model, is in the domain of rhetoric. It becomes less about habituation through rewards and punishments and more about an appeal to the audience’s opinions and previous understanding. The classroom teacher must arrange the lesson the way a rhetorician arranges a speech, complete with figures, tropes, colors, and other wiles of language. Although we might have hoped that the direct consequence of teaching would be learning, it seems, according to this model, learning is a later consequence. Instead, the direct consequence has become “engagement.” Now, the one criterion for judging the level of engagement would be the audience’s reaction, so pathos has priority over logos—according to this model, both ideally and actually. The hope is that the lesson’s logos follows pathos.

At this point in the explication, I have no decided judgment about the concept of engagement. On the one hand, I am wary of the priority of pathos, although its usefulness is obvious. On the other, it does seem wrong, or contrary to experience, to assume that learning is a direct consequence of the bare presentation of logos, if such a thing were possible.

Rhetoric concerns persuasion, which is often not much like learning. But maybe pathetic persuasion is a propaedeutic to learning, and the rhetorical an open door for the dialectical. . . .


* I found this in Rome and Rhetoric, the section titled “Antony: The Fox Knows Many Things.” Willis deploys this maxim in the middle of a comparative analysis of Shakespeare’s Antony in Julius Caesar and his Menenius in Coriolanus.