Tuesday, July 15, 2014

montaigne #2: on education

The next topic as you think about Montaigne is education (note: as a preview of coming attractions, you may want to have a look at how I returned to this in last year's final exam).  As a twelve-year veteran of the system (assuming you began in kindergarten) you undoubtedly have your own opinions about education. How has your education helped you think? What practices are effective and what needs to be modernized? What do you think of this article on homework, which ran on the front page of The New York Times?

Here are some thoughts from Montaigne (after the jump). Does his view on education surprise you? Does it seem like what you would expect from him? Do you agree/disagree with him? As you did last week, please feel free to compare these ideas with what you read (and this time, please respond in a comment to this post). Take notes on the ideas and the writing style, and remember that we will begin the year with a series of in-class essays on these topics, so if anyone has ideas or questions please don't be shy-- start sharing your ideas in comments now.

Excerpt from:

Bakewell, Sarah. (2010). How to Live: Or, A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.  New York: Other Press.


He [Montaigne] fulminates against the brutal methods of most schools.  “Away with violence and compulsion!”  If you enter a school in lesson time, he says, “you hear nothing but cries, both from tortured boys and from masters drunk with rage.”  All this achieves is to put children off learning for life.
Often, books need not be used at all.  One learns dancing by dancing; one learns to play the
lute by playing the lute.  The same is true of thinking, and indeed of living.  Every experience can be a learning opportunity: “a page’s prank, a servant’s blunder, a remark at table.”  The child should learn to question everything: to “pass everything through a sieve and lodge nothing in his head on mere authority and trust.”  Traveling is useful; so is socializing, which teaches the child to be open to others and to adapt to anyone he finds around him.  Eccentricities should be ironed out early, because they make it difficult to get on with others.  “I have seen men flee from the smell of apples more than from harquebus fire, others take fright at a mouse, others throw up at the sight of cream, and others at the plumping of a feather bed.”  All this stands in the way of good relationships and of good living.  It can be avoided, for young human beings are malleable.
Or at least, they are malleable up to a point.  Montaigne soon changes tack.  Whatever you do, he says, you cannot really change inborn disposition.  You can guide it or train it, but not get rid of it.  In another essay he wrote, “There is no one who, if he listens to himself, does not discover in himself a pattern all his own, a ruling pattern, which struggles against education.”

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