UNIVERSITY TEACHING–THE STATE OF THE ART
Post on 03-Oct-2016
Vol. 3, No. 1, January 1972
THE PHILOSOPHER AS TEACHER ARTICLES, COMMENTS, CORRESPONDENCE
Editors Note: From the Muscutine Report at Berkeley to the Scrunton Commission Report on campus unrest, all recent major studies of higher education in America agree that tradi- tional undergraduate teaching is in serious trouble-is simply not working anymore. The teaching of philosophy is no excep- tion. We in philosophy face the same difficulties and short- comings as our colleagues in other departments.
A t a recent SUNY-wide conference on the improvement of college teaching, Frank W. Wadsworth, Professor of English and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the State University of New York College a t Purchase, delivered the keynote address. We believe that Professor Wadsworth eloquently stated a number of the problems and provided an incisive analysis for many of the disputes and disagreements that plague academic departments across the country-including philosophy depart- ments. We asked Professor Wadsworth to permit us to publish his address because we think i t will prove beneficial to philo- sophy teachers.
UNIVERSITY TEACHING-THE STATE OF THE ART
FRANK W. WADSWORTH
I should like to state at the outset that I do not think, nor would I like you to think, of the remarks that follow as com- prising a formal, professional lecture. My comments are based neither upon a wide acquaintance with educational literature, nor upon intensive special research. Rather they represent the personal observations of one who has been engaged in college teaching for most of his adult life, in university administration for the past eight years, and has been in love with his own particular subject field, literature, as long as he can remember. To complete this characterization, and to make it honest as.
86 FRANK W. WADSWORTH well as accurate, I should confess they are the comments of someone who has a t times had to be dragged into the twentieth century, but who, now that he is here, does not find it half so terrifying as he had once feared. On the other hand, they are the comments also of one who does not feel that higher educa- tion in America is a total disaster, and who believes that we should retain what is useful in our tradition at the same time that we scrap what is not.
Since I have now, with disarming candor, excused the lack of organization that will characterize my remarks, let me begin by qualifying one of the implications of my title. The modern university is a vast and complex institution whose concerns mirror those of society and whose teaching efforts are of many kinds. Within our own institution you will find instruction offered in Yoruba and Epistemology, Hematopoietics and On- tology, to mention only a few of the better known fields. You will also find persons teaching Camping, Cooking, Photography and Interior Design. The students themselves range from post- doctoral fellows to school children, from the physically and mentally healthy to the mentally retarded, the deaf and the blind. Obviously university teaching covers a multitude of activities, and probably a multitude of sins. I of necessity am going to limit what I have to say to the only kind of teach- ing I know anything about-the teaching of the liberal arts, and I am going to focus my comments upon instruction at the undergraduate Ievel.
Of liberal arts teaching, at the undergraduate level, then, I would say that at the moment the state of the art is not good. The curriculum is under constant assault, invested typically by a wild, undisciplined but multi-weaponed army, and guarded by a group of traditionalists whose usual defense is the academic equivalent of dropping rocks on the heads of the invaders. Traditional teaching techniques are criticized as being im- personal, authoritarian, dehumanizing, and sometimes just downright inefficient. The faculty no longer enjoys the beati- tude of sanctity, and there are some who aver that the typical college professor finds it easier to change the length of his sideburns than his mind.
In all of these charges there is some truth. The typical liberal arts curriculum rests upon assumptions that are patently false- for example, that all students learn at the same rate, and that four years of two semesters each is, as the result of some kind of divine revelation never identified, the perfect and only time
UNIVERSITY TEACHING 87 span in which to educate a young man or woman. And then, as if this were not artificial enough, it presumes to tell the student that during these four years he must amass 120 things called units or credits-a thing invisible, incidentally, to the naked eye of any one but a registrar-at which exact moment he will be educated. He will not, it is made very clear, be educated if he has amassed a mere 119 things. And pre- sumably if he has somehow managed to collect 121 he will be even worse off-he will be overeducated.
For the convenience of many people, including computers- but not presumably for the convenience of the student-we usually make these things available in groups of three, to be picked up in fourteen or fifteen weeks precisely, Thus beginning language study, advanced laboratory work, and the history of the novel are all designed-I use the word with some reluc- tance-by compression, excision, expansion, whatever the necessary method may be, to fit the same instructional period. Having packaged our product, we watch carefully as the student tries to take it off the shelf, evaluating his effectiveness by means of traditional symbols which imply a quite unattain- able accuracy. I would suggest that no matter what kind of wine one tries to pour into this bottle it is going to turn sour very soon.
Our teaching techniques are often not much better than the curriculum they profess to grapple with. Even assuming that the instructor knows his subject and is actually anxious to teach it, traditional methods of instruction have become fossilized, not necessarily because they are intrinsically bad but because they have been unable to cope with the changing needs of the academic community. Although much has been made recently about the overcrowding of lectures and classes, I would hazard a guess that the trouble does not lie primarily in class size, but rather in the stultifying concept of the function of the class or lecture that has typically characterized undergraduate education. It has been my experience, particularly on the campuses of public institutions, that the classroom or lecture hall is more often than not simply a place for the mechanical dissemination of knowledge that the student could in fact pick up in large part for himself. Instead of interacting creatively with his materiaI, of bringing his greater experience and expertise to bear upon his chosen subject, the instructor simply grinds out standard information that is available to the student in many other ways, sometimes indeed by means as outrd as reading. Lectures and classes do not
88 FRANK W. WADSWORTH have to be dull and unrewarding, and seminars and tutorials are not necessarily helpful and exciting. The Grammar School at Stratford was not overcrowded, but there is no evidence that Shakespeare had a blast there as a result.
Is the trouble then the teacher himself? Are we-are you-as ineffective as critics say? As I listen to faculty talk I am re- minded of John Donnes lament about the new science of the seventeenth century, which, by upsetting old values including the idea of a hierarchical social structure, created a world where every man alone thinkes he hath got To be a Phoenix, and that there can bee, None of that kinde of which he is, but hee. There may be trouble, but its the other fellow whos got it, not me! Recently I happened to read a description of the ideal secondary school teacher. It went as follows:
The teacher should deeply love his own subject in particular and learning in general with a love that insures continuing scholarship throughout his career. He should be interested in young people and respect them. He should constantly assess and understand the moral as well as intellectual ends for which he teaches. As a person he should have integrity, vitality, stability, and courage.
I think that the typical college or university faculty member would agree-modestly, possibly shuffling his feet a little in embarrassment-that this is a not inaccurate description of him- self, although it is, of course, a grossly distorted picture of the majority of his colleagues. If we ask students whether in their experience these characteristics have any relationship to the typical faculty member, the answer might also, I am afraid, be discouraging. Yet I would argue that more faculty members have at least the potential to come close to this description of an ideal than we may be aware of. Unfortunately many things con- spire against their realizing this potential, Some problems they share with all mankind, such as wives, husbands, children, debts, ill health and so forth. But more important, colleges and universities, generally speaking, have not told their faculty that they want them to be like this. True, they may have described their teaching staffs in some such words as these in the catalogue, but in reality they have seen fit to reward their faculty for qualities and accomplishments quite different from those I have just described. Naturally the basis for reward varies from institu- tion to institution, and there are some places, most typically private girls colleges, where to be interested in young people
UNIVERSITY TEACHING 89 and to respect them represents just about all the qualifications for getting and holding a teaching job one needs. But more typically the institution, if it cares a t all about what its faculty is doing, is most interested in a teachers continuing scholar- ship throughout his career, and rewards him therefor and only therefor. Existing in a world where footnotes pay the milk bill and teaching is praised but seldom rewarded, inhibited by a curricular structure that has Iittle to do with education, the teacher has in many ways been shortchanged as much as his student.
Now I, you understand, am not alone in recognizing these inefficiencies in our system of higher education. My percipience is shared by most students, many administrators, and some faculty; and by every educational expert writing for the journals, each of whom inevitably begins his jeremiad by applying to liberal arts education a list of adjectives that seem to have been lifted from a Red Youth rally in Peking. Sometimes, I must admit, I wonder if an institution that produced me can be all that bad, but the evidence is clear and the indictment telling- the ways of educating young people that may have worked in an older, different, perhaps more stable society, simply are not effective today.
In addition to questioning the efficiency of our educational system, society is beginning to raise questions about its rele- vance. If students have led the way here, they are now being joined by some administrators and faculty, the latter usually young and just recently students themselves. Of course none of us has a very clear idea of just what relevance amounts to, although all of us, students, faculty and administrators, go around mouthing platitudes about meeting students needs or desires, about the importance of value-stressing courses, of the problem-oriented approach, and so forth. I find such phrases not very helpful and think that with their tendency to encourage simplistic solutions of complex problems they can at times be very harmful. For example, it is not a t all clear what students wishes really are, inasmuch as their demands tend to be ad- vanced emotionally in times of political stress and to be articulated by an activist minority who may or may not speak for their silent peers. As for students needs, these too would seem to be more difficult of definition than is usually granted, involving as they do questions of what students think they need, what past experience indicates they would have needed had the world not changed so quickly and dramatically, and what our
90 FRANK W. WADSWORTH blurred vision of the future suggests may be needed. What is relevant? ask the liberal arts, but in our mixed mood of guilt and recrimination nobody seems willing to wait for an answer. I t is far easier to equate relevance with immediacy, because then, unburdened by doubt, all we have to do is to shout together, go man go !
So here am I, standing somewhere to the left of Texas but to the right of Black Mountain and trying to be an enlightened educator. What kind of new light shall I cast on the old darkness, what kind of clear, loud voice shall I raise against the Gregorian chant of educational tradition? First, I will announce that four years do not an education make, nor 120 credits a bachelor of arts (whatever he may be). Just why four years has become sacrosanct in American education I do not know, but it does seem clear enough now that it is an arbitrary and artificial time span predicated upon the indefensible notion that every ones learning pace is the same. Instead of being forced into an arbi- trary time mould, the student should be allowed (within reason, and by that I mean up to the point where he begins wasting his time and the time of others) to take as much time as he wants and needs to complete his undergraduate education, inter- rupting it if and when he wishes to do so. Furthermore, his progress, when it is proper to measure it, should not be measured by the mechanical compilation of course credits, but instead by his ability to reach certain kinds of academic bench- marks, benchmarks that he should be allowed to arrive at in a multiplicity of ways, through independent study, proficiency exams and tutorials, as well as by means of formal course work. It should be what the student does, not how he does it that counts.
Second, we should start thinking innovatively and imagina- tively about our teaching methods. We should insist that the student himself reap what man has sown. He should be shown how to gather information and then be given reading lists and told to read. Formal lectures should be made available to him not for the purpose of compiling grade point averages, but so that he can experience the intellectual phenomenon of a trained expert coming to grips with his subject under formal and demanding conditions. But he should also come in contact with his teachers in other ways, through traditional classes, seminars, laboratories and tutorials. In every instance, however, the emphasis should be on an intellectually stimulating interaction among teacher, student and material, and not upon the grinding
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out of factual information presented as being somehow valuable in itself, although it may in fact never be used. The potential of modern teaching aids should be explored fully, not because the new technology represents the latest pedagogical fad, not because of the myth that it will ultimately be cheaper, but because it has at least the theoretical possibility of fundamentally altering our methods of instruction, and of altering them for the better. My impression, and some of you may well wish to correct this, is that the new electronic marvels have not to date been very successful in liberal arts instruction a t the college level. I have heard of an occasional program in the sciences and in foreign language training that has been at least as effective as traditional pedagogy, but generally speaking there has been a rather notice- able gap between promise and performance. Audiovisual aids seem to me to have been most effective where used to supple- ment traditional teaching methods rather than to substitute for them, and the infinite possibilities of computer-assisted instruc- tion are still in the future, in part because the software, the programming, is at the moment as simplistic as the machine itself is complex. In one area, that of the language laboratory, there has been marked success, although even here there is controversy and a most unscholarly unwillingness to look a t new evidence on the part of some department chairmen. But we must remember that even the book was greeted with suspicion in some parts, and had to fight its way into monastic libraries. Film, particu- larly, in all its various forms, holds unlimited promise. And with the advent of cassette TV-now an educational reality and soon to be available for home use-the delivery system will have become highly flexible and adaptable. Nevertheless, I would hazard the guess that the most fruitful use of film in education will not be the simple, straightforward shooting of Professor Jones giving his well known lecture on the sexual habits of the avocado, or even the filming of a chemical experiment or the customs of the Australian bushmen, but the recognition that the film is a significant new art form as worthy of serious study as literature, painting or sculpture.
Equally important in attempting to reform liberal education should be a thorough reconsideration of the grading system. As it now stands the evaluation of student work is a punitive thing, designed wholly to serve the credential-providing function of the college or university and totally unrelated to the institutions true function, that of educating people. I am not at this time suggesting that grades must go-completely-although perhaps
92 FRANK W. WADSWORTH they should; but I am suggesting that they must be questioned from the point of view of trying to determine why we ought to give them. It may be that it is part of our responsibility to provide society with some sort of indication of what a student has learned and how well he has learned it, but I would question seriously whether it is our responsibility to inform society how long it took him and what difficulties he had along the way. Speaking only for myself, I would a t a minimum like to see the conventional symbols done away with and some simple indica- tion of work done satisfactorily or with distinction substituted for them. I think students, if they are to be formally evaluated, should be evaluated carefully but infrequently and primarily in the area of their major concentrations. Less formal evaluation could take place at selected benchmarks when the faculty feels that it is important to have this information before recommend- ing that a student move on to more sophisticated studies. The failing grade should be abolished-it is the chief offender in a system that can penalize the student if his intellectual curiosity leads him into strange and difficult fields, and can demand that he repeat all of a course because he may have had difficulty with only a part of it. Most unfortunately, it is a system that requires that the student carry the mark of his difficulties to the grave, embossed for eternity on his academic transcript. This is not only punitive, i t is downright unfair.
And where does the teacher fit into all of this? He should, of course, have in abundance those qualities that each of us finds so richly present in himself. He should like students, like to teach, know his subject, be able to make it interesting, etc., etc., etc. I think we know what a good teacher ought to be. The prob- lem is recognizing him, and, having recognized him, rewarding him. I have never been lucky enough to find out whether man can, in fact, live on love alone, but I know that a teacher cannot live on psychic income alone-although the business world seems to have a strange notion that this is all that is needed for you and me to be blissfully happy. But you and I have promises to keep, and mouths to feed, and joy is simply not enough. So colleges and universities must learn to do two things-they must learn to recognize good teaching and they must be pre- pared to reward it financially when they find it.
In spite of the fact that for over twenty years faculty colleagues have been telling me that good teaching is impossible to define and therefore impossible to recognize, I do not believe it. I think we do know good teaching when we see it, and I think we
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are quite capable of distinguishing between it and superficial popularity, that psychological crutch that the eminent university professor who prefers to stand on his research rather than upon his total contribution to the academic community always depends upon. The problem, rather, is simply one of devising ways of looking for it. We are told that it is infra dig to have our classrooms visited, to be evaluated by students, to have our syllibi scrutinized or our grades challenged. But why? Only because some Germanic tradition reborn in the primordial swamps of American education has told us that we are Pro- fessors, and Professors can do no wrong. We no longer expect our students to stand up when we enter the classroom, but in many other respects we continue to be as authoritarian as a Marine sergeant.
Given a wise and understanding administration-which almost by definition means administrators who have been and are members of the teaching faculty-I think that it is entirely appropriate to solicit and utilize any and all kinds of information relevant to a faculty members teaching performance. Student opinion, whether published and peddled in the bookstore, or retrieved through some committee system, is certainly germane and valuable. Visitation, done in a polite, dignified and sym- pathetically constructive manner, does not seem to me to com- prise a professional affront. Certainly it is better than to encourage, by ignoring, bad teaching, the potential harm of which is unlimited. On an ideal campus-and there is no reason why all of us cannot strive for the ideal-there would be few problems. If we could learn to think of the campus as truly an intellectual community where every one had equal rights-and equal responsibilities-and where the only distinctions were that some members had more and often different experiences than others, then I think the evaluation of teaching would be no problem. Faculty would visit one anothers classes because they were genuinely curious about what went on there. Faculty would meet with one another, and with students, not simply in the formal situations of departmental meetings or scheduled classes, but as equal members of a confraternity. As a result, good-and bad-teaching would no longer be hidden under a bushel, and the needed information would be available, out in the open, and would require only administrative action to make it mean- ingful and significant.
Aye, as a troubled student once said, theres the rub. Because, unless college and university administrations are sin-
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cerely willing to recognize good teaching, little will happen. And by recognize I imply a special meaning of the word- to acknow- ledge with a show of approval, as my dictionary puts it. Admin- istrations are generally willing enough to praise good teaching, but less willing to recognize it, primarily because its market value is small. If you publish the definitive study of The Ayenbite of Inwit you may hear the sirens sing from the suburbs of Boston, but no one has ever had to lash a man to the mast just because he was a good teacher. Unfortunately, the academic market place reflects an invidious distinction that too many of us are prone to make. Like the cigarette commercial that implies that one cannot have good grammar and good taste, we frequently assume that teaching and scholarship are incom- patible, are somehow mutually exclusive. But I would argue quite the opposite: that one can hardly be a good teacher without being in the most fundamental sense an active scholar, that if we view teaching as anything more than the mechanical dissemination of information, the teacher by definition has constantly to be exploring his chosen territory with curiosity, persistence and vigor. Administrations should insist upon evidence of scholarship from all their teachers, but they should be sophisticated enough to realize that true scholarship in the classroom is even more important than in the learned journal. By broadening their definition of scholarship, colleges and universities will find that it is less difficult to reward good teaching than they may think.
Nothing, I realize, that I have said to this point is either new or startling-and much in these enlightened times is not even controversial. But I thought that it might be helpful for me to go over some familiar ground before turning to the question that I want now most earnestly to raise with you. In particuIar, I wanted to demonstrate briefly an approach to the problems of college and university teaching that rather typically tends to see only the surface of discontent while remaining unaware of the causes that lie hidden from view. The academic practices of which I have just been critical represent symptoms of un- healthiness, not the disease itself, and the solutions I have suggested can affect only the symptoms. Not to try to go beyond the symptoms would be akin to a doctor lancing a boil but forgetting to change the diet.
My title refers to teaching as an art. With this I cannot disagree. Teaching, particularly in the liberal arts, is more than a science; it is a mysterious activity in which the total effort
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somehow is infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. But to call teaching an art is also to characterize it in important ways. Among others it is to imply that it has a logic, a structure, a purpose. The visual and performing arts have many faces- sometimes they appear to be highly conventional, sometimes they seem to be no more than products of happenstance. But I would argue that any work of art has a unity (which may often appear to be a total lack of unity), a logical structure (which may often appear to be highly illogical), an artistic objective, if you will, which results from the artists attempting to impose some kind of order upon his materials. (Where this leaves nude actors fortuitously discussing their own costiveness, or cate- gorizing the Viet Nam war, I am not sure; where it leaves me as a critic may be a little to the right of The East Village Other; but I do believe that art is purposeful in an artistic, as distinguished from a propagandistic, sense, and that therefore the analogue with good teaching is a proper one.) Good teaching, like true art, has got to have a purpose, no matter how formless, unstructured, even chaotic it may seem to be on the surface. The real trouble with liberal arts teaching in our colleges and universities is that too often it does not know what its purpose is. When we respond to our critics we normally scrutinize our implements and our techniques, but we give little serious thought to our objectives; we concern ourselves with the how, rather than with the why. But to debate the merits of seminars versus lectures, of grading versus non-grading, without knowing clearly what it is one is trying to accomplish with these techniques is, I submit, to engage in a less than useful discourse. Far too often as I sit in serious, often heated faculty discussions about curriculum I am reminded of the dialogue in Ionescos The Bald Soprano, or of the old joke about how do you tell the difference between boy pancakes and girl pancakes-by the way theyre stacked of course! The words seem to make sense, but do they?
I would like to suggest that there are two distinct goals which have traditionally characterized liberal education. Each of these objectives is present to some degree in almost every liberal arts program, although programs tend as a rule to be character- ized more by one than by the other. Most important, although the individual instructor is characteristically dominated by one or the other of these two objectives, it is rare in discussions of curriculum that faculty clearly distinguish these goals and debate them on their merits, Instead, they argue curricula and courses
96 FRANK W. WADSWORTH and methodology as though they and their colleagues all had common aims, trying to agree on how when often they disagree basically on why. Thus Professor Jones argues for requirements, while Professor Smith pleads for total free choice. But require- ments for what, or free choice for what, is not always made clear. The ultimate result of this is that we begin to function as politicians rather than educators, as followers rather than leaders, particularly in the face of strong student opposition where we at times allow ourselves to be swayed by decibel count more than by substance.
If we peer beyond, or behind, the purple prose of the liberal arts college catalogue, two fundamental educational activities can be discerned. The first has as its objective-avowed or not- the professional education of the student. I quote:
The curriculum . . . strikes many contemporary students as one designed for incipient scholars : introductory courses are meant to prepare students for what comes next within the discipline; the took and skills of scholars are the goah; and most important, each discipline seems to operate indepen- dently of the others. Thus, at the very time that the late adolescent wishes to relate his maturing self to the entire world around him, he finds both himself and his world diffracted into a jagged spectrum of various scholars separate skills.
This description, or indictment, let me hasten to add, is actually of the secondary school curriculum. But I would argue that it is a fairly accurate description of what is going on in many college classrooms across the country. Whether it be the curriculum in chemistry, anthropology or philosophy, the educational objective is to turn out a professional, a person who has the skills and tools to study chemistry, anthropology or philosophy in the manner that other older and more experi- enced professionals have decided is most effective. What the student will do with this professional training is largely irrele- vant-he may go on to graduate school in order to become more professional, or he may never seriously consider the discipline again. But the main objective of the course of study he is asked to follow is to make him a better professional, not to develop him as a human being. I realize, of course, that the departments of chemistry and anthropology and philosophy, would on occasion deny, the philosophers perhaps most vehemently, that this is what they are trying to do. They would argue that they are
UNIVERSITY TEACHING 97 trying to turn out an educated human being, capable of dealing with todays world. But their idea of an educated individual is, I think, intimately intertwined with their concept of profes- sionalism. He is someone who has a rather general and super- ficial grounding in a number of key areas-distribution require- ments-plus intensive work in a traditional, identifiable, socially acceptable discipline. The fact that the philosophy department would claim that training in philosophy helps to make a better human being is interesting, but it does not change the facts. The departments goal is to turn out philosophers.
This idke fixe (to use Berlioz phrase, which appeared perhaps prophetically in the program notes to La Symphonie fan- tastique) appears to be most influential on university campuses dominated by large, graduate-oriented departments. It usually characterizes upper-division more than lower-division programs, but its influence is felt at all levels, often in most subtle ways. Most obvious at the lower-division level is the plethora of introductory surveys and so forth, which under the guise of offering the student general education insistently indoctrinate him into the rites and rituals of the mysteries being served. To see how pervasive this influence is we have only to look at that all-time favorite, Freshman English. For generations Freshman English has been taught as though every student were going to become president of the College English Association and com- municate in a style that was eternally formal, academic and correct. One of the reasons we have had so much difficulty in dealing with the writing problems of educationally disadvantaged students is that we have allowed this spirit of professionalism to influence unwarrantedly our assumptions about their writing needs. We decide arbitrarily that they ought to be taught to write (or speak) in the formal, often artificial neo-Victorian style which the academic profession has adopted for its own-a style that is neither indigenous to their own cultural traditions, nor an effective way of communicating their own special ex- periences and insights. Not until we truly understand our educational goals will we realize that what we must give these students, that what they need, and usually want, is simply the ability to express themselves clearly and precisely in English, for better or worse the only language of use to them in dealing with the immediate world around them. The precise denotations, the shifting connotations of words; the meaning of tenses and moods; the logical relationships between words and phrases and clauses; all this information and much more will be needed
98 FRANK W. WADSWORTH for the student to be able to say what he wants to say. But to insist that his idiom be that of the English professor who is trying to teach him, that his style reflect the traditional rhythms and diction of A Christmas Carol, is simply to teach without asking the question of why, to what purpose. Or worse -to insist that everyone be cast in the professional mould of the department of English, a consumation devoutly not to be wished.
The other educational goal which flourishes on the liberal arts campus-particularly a t certain private womens colleges-is quite different from the training of young professionals. It is, put in the most general terms, the self-development of the student to the point where he has a reasonable chance of being able to cope with the reality of adult life in todays world, Here the faculty member becomes not so much the master-teacher surrounded by his apprentices, as a quasi-psychiatrist engaged in a project in group therapy in which he is a sort of partis inter pares. The main objective of this teacher is not to turn out a trained philosopher, but rather to aid an individual human being in the process of self-discovery in the hopes that this process will result in a happier, more independent, more imagina- tive, more creative, ultimately, I suppose, more socially useful person. Although his aims are not as far removed from that earlier goal of turning out a Christian gentleman (or gentle- woman) as he thinks, he tends to be scornful of the traditional idea of the educated man and of the notion that some kinds of knowledge are more important than others. He finds no par- ticular virtue in either breadth or depth of learning and tends to believe that the education the student has had to date has been wasteful and stultifying rather than valuable and liberating. Because this teacher is primarily engaged in helping the student answer the questions, Who am I? What do I really want? he cannot be concerned with right answers, but only with trying to see that answers are found, for his success or lack of success as a teacher cannot be related to any rigid preconception of what the finished human product ought to be, in contradistinction to the professionally oriented educator who knows with more or less confidence what makes a good philosopher or chemist or what have you. There are, I suppose, certain qualities that most of us recognize as being desirable both in themselves and because they are good for society. Intellectual curiosity, indepen- dence, honesty, a social awareness, a sense of tolerance and sympathy, there are many traits that we could wish to see more
UNIVERSITY TEACHING 99 of. And I think most of us would agree that the possession of these traits is in some way bound up with self-awareness, with a sense of identity, and also that in some mysterious way those subjects that we call liberal arts have the power to help human beings achieve these qualities. But compared to the simple task of training an historian, the education of a human being is a matter of infinite complexity.
Now, I do not wish to imply that these two educational goals are mutually exclusive, or even that they can exist in a healthy state independently of each other. Indeed, they often share at least one concern in common in that each upon occasion claims to turn out students who can think logically and critically. That they are reconcilable, a t least in theory, is demonstrated, I think, by the stated educational goals of Hampshire College in Massachusetts. All I wish to emphasize is that two sig- nificantly different educational activities do take place on the liberal arts campus. One can argue that the training of an historian helps to develop a human being, and conversely that one can encourage self-awareness through the study of a tradi- tional discipline. But the goals are different, and it is here, in my opinion, that many faculty people fail to face up to them- selves by asking the simple question, what is it that I as an individual educator am ultimately and most deeply interested in? Do I want to teach history to people who want to be historians, or do I want to use history as a way of opening my students eyes to themselves and to their environment? By failing to ask this question, or by failing to answer it, by avoiding it and assuming consciously or unconsciously that one can do both without any special awareness of which is which, the teacher often ends up doing one thing when he claims to be doing the other, and doing it poorly to boot. Thus the professor teaching a lower-division course designed primarily to serve the function of developing self-awareness in students may in fact be simply stuffing professional information into them as the women of France stuff grain down the throat of a goose. Similarly, the professor offering an upper-division course in American philo- sophy may claim to be training philosophers when in fact he is using philosophy primarily to induce his students to turn their eyes inward upon themselves. Each professor will be doing his own thing, not necessarily in overt defiance of the system, but unconsciously, because it is easier to do what you feel comfort- able with, without asking questions, than to define and then articulate ones goals, often in the face of strong and adverse
100 FRANK W. WADSWORTH criticism. Yet no matter how successful each of these teachers may be in his own eyes or even in the eyes of his students, when the two of them sit down to discuss liberal education they will have difficulty in communicating because neither will be able to state clearly and precisely what it is he as an educator is attempting to do, or what he feels ought to be attempted by others. Professor A will feel that Professor B is a lousy philo- sopher, while Professor B will feel that Professor A is a pedant, deadly and dull. But I think that if they were more honest with themselves they could then be more understanding of each other. And I think too that they could communicate more easily with their students, who although they might not always like what they heard would a t least recognize and respect straight talk.
What I have called the professional objective of liberal edu- cation is closely related to the credentials-providing function of the college or university. Many years ago, when he was a young man, my father applied for a construction job on the West Coast. When the foreman asked him what his qualifications were my father replied that he had just received his degree in engineering from M.I.T. The foreman scowled, and deliberated for awhile, and then said, Well, young man, Ill give you a chance in spite of that. But times have changed and now society relies heavily upon the university to certify the accomplishments of its graduates, whether they be engineers or students of literature. I am not at all sure that the certification of undergraduates is the proper function of our colleges and universities, but as long as they are going to provide this service they have an obligation to do so effectively. This being the case, to the extent that the liberal arts college sees itself as providing this professionally oriented, credential-providing service there are a number of inferences relating to the art of teaching that can be made. There will have to be some form of evaluation and there will have to be some requirements of subject matter and skills. One can argue that there is no single area of knowledge that is essential to the educated man, perhaps, but most people would also agree, I think, that there are certain things that the pro- fessional in any given field must be acquainted with. Thus there must be some limit to the permissiveness of the faculty, which has the responsibility of developing a measure of intellectual conformity among its students. I t seems obvious that the insti- tutions educational aims are in a sense limited, in that they point more or less precisely to certain moulds into which young professionals will have to fit; as a result there is a role for
UNIVERSITY TEACHING 101 authority, if not for authoritarianism. It is inescapable that there is an eIement of anti-individualism in this form of education, just as it is fundamentally anti-emotional, being marked by rationalism and objectivity. For society must have confidence in its credential-providers and it gains this confidence only when they measure the measurable. Because society still does not understand how to recognize and reward human values, it has perforce to be content with recognizing and rewarding profes- sional values.
By contrast, education which has as its primary objective the self-development of the individual student is susceptible to a quite different series of inferences. If professional education is found in its quintessential form in the graduate schools, non- professional education exists at its purest in some of the more enlightened programs for youngsters in the pre-kindergarten to third or fourth grade stages. These free day or integrated day programs as they are sometimes called differ only in the sophistication of students, and to some extent perhaps of teachers, from a college level program devoted wholly to in- dividual growth, and they help us to see some of the implications of such a program. Clearly, formal evaluation in the traditional sense has no place here, for who would be so bold as to rate A, B, C or F the growing self-awareness of a fellow human being -and who would be interested in the ratings if he did. Some kind of a progress report may be needed, but it must be a report designed primarily to further the self-awareness of the student, not to establish his bona fides in the eyes of society. Nor is there any place for course requirements in this kind of education, for the educational objectives are infinitely broad and complex and can only be approached by allowing each student to do what is good for him and for him alone. The traditional major cannot exist here and faculty can no longer plan programs but rather must simply respond to students needs, for as there are no moulds into which the students must be fitted, the educational program can be marked by the highest degree of individualism and permissiveness. This kind of learning can only take place in an egalitarian atmosphere where the traditional inhibitions between teacher and student do not exist. It is a highly subjective, emotional process, and requires techniques of teaching that are new and substantially different from those we have traditionally been using.
I want to stress again that I am not saying that one or the other of these goals is the proper one for a liberal arts college
102 FRANK W. WADSWORTH to have, nor am I attempting to prescribe any particular golden mean between them. I would urge only that you consider them both explicitly when discussing what a liberal arts college ought to be. Recently I had opportunity to talk at length with a dis- tinguished historian at a famous university who refuses as a matter of principle to give grades or set requirements in his courses. Although I cannot always agree with him, I find that I can converse meaningfully with him because he is clear in his own mind as to what a college education ought to be. History, to him, is simply a way of enriching group therapy, giving it an intellectual component which it might otherwise lack. His educational premises are clear and unequivocal, his conduct logical and inevitable. Because he has thought carefully about what education ought to be he forces others to ask themselves the big-and difficult-questions. I think we, in this university, must ask these questions, and we must not flinch from the answers. When we do ask, some of the other questions that we now debate endlessly may answer themselves. We may find that teaching machines can serve one purpose very well and the other very poorly, that the right class size for one purpose is the wrong class size for the other. We may find that a special program in Black Studies that is difficult to justify in terms of one objective is highly desirable in terms of the other. But until we decide what the purpose or purposes of our educational system really are, until we are able to distinguish in our own minds the difference between the study of philosophy and the training of a philosopher, talk about curricular change and about the improvement of teaching seems to me to be premature and not very profitable.
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