Saturday, January 26, 2013
Everything considered, and allowances made for cultural and historical differences, the Merchant Taylors’ School, in the early to middle period of English pedagogy, was a far superior secondary school to anything our contemporary ideologues and planners, whose ignorance of educational history is impressively catholic, have managed to install today. We no longer teach the classics, those documents — in the words of Melville scholar and Norton anthologist Hershel Parker — that “afford the most rich, complex, aesthetic experiences…most likely to work transforming enlightenment…in all earnest young students.” On the contrary, our current methodology, pursued in a cognitive vacancy, constitutes nothing more than another pedagogical talisman which testifies only to the bankruptcy, or the magical thinking, that has overtaken the culture of education to which we unthinkingly contribute. We have long passed the time, laments Welsh poet Gillian Clarke in her new book Ice, “when the map of the earth was something we knew by/heart.” It is as if we have simply forgotten the central axiom of human development: if you know very little, you cannot do very much. Method can never be a surrogate for substance. You must work to have something there if there is ever to be something there to work with.