Friday, December 9, 2016


Mortimer Jerome Adler, Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind, edited by Geraldine Van Doren. New York: Macmillan, 1988. 362 pages.

I am rereading Adler's Reforming Education. It is a collection of essays or lectures he did throughout his life. The book provides a good overall view of Adler's thought on education. I read the book several years ago and I am now reading it again with much pleasure. I was reading his essay on docility this morning. He begins the essay by distinguishing between study and curiosity. This distinction was emphasized in the Medieval period by Catholic scholars. Studiositas refers to the virtue of studying the important things. Curiositas was the vice of emphasizing the non-essentials. These two terms had to do with the virtue of temperance. The virtue is the golden mean between two extremes according to Aristotle. Adler thinks that learning is basically discovery. It can be direct discovery or discovery through the help of a teacher. Study and curiosity concerns direct discovery. Most learning is indirect discovery through instruction. Docility is the virtue in regards to learning with the help of a teacher. So, docility would be the mean between the extremes of subservience and pride. Docility means the willingness and ability to learn from others. Adler asserts in another essay that teaching is a cooperative activity with the learner. The learning takes place in the learner. Because of this idea, Adler does not think learning is the teacher pouring what he knows to the learner. In addition, it is not the teacher lecturing and the learner memorizing information to be regurgitated to the teacher. This is exercising the memory and not the intellect of the learner. Adler believes the best way to cooperate with the learner is through the socratic method, the asking of questions. At first, the learner might not see the truth of what the master/scholar is teaching him, but he accepts it temporarily based on the authority of the teacher. However, he must not stay in this situation because that would be subservience or slavery. The goal is that the student will ultimately accept the principle or truth not because of the words of the teacher, but because of his own reason. The student must accept the truth because his own reason impels him to do so. The teacher as well as the student will continue learning their whole life. Mostly the teacher will learn from the best minds of the past through time. So, he will be both a teacher and learner. The major player in learning is the learner himself. The teacher plays a subsidiary role.

Another point that I have seen recently in my readings is the importance of questions. Many Christians say Jesus is the answer, but they do not know the questions. That is putting the cart before the horse. It is actually through questions that the intellect of the learner is actually activated. Questions causes some confusion in the learner. He is not sure what the question. He goes on a quest to discover answer to his questions which might lead to more questions. As Socrates, the teacher is teaching through dialectics or the discussion of questions. I am afraid that what often happens in schools is indoctrination, not education. For example, some of the colleges I have been a member emphasize answers, not questions. They tell the students what they are to believe. Questions are not emphasized, but correct answers. Wrong answers are frowned on. This method of indoctrination does not seem helpful in teaching the learner to stand on their own feet.

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