Thursday, January 19, 2006

The BS in the BA

Children are able to do many things with the help of parents and teachers that they would be quite incapable of managing on their own, but all the coaxing and encouragement is a bit mendacious like the ads for miracle golf equipment that promise to give us all a brilliant short game. At some point, the learner needs to get the bad news; and that’s especially true in formal education. Unfortunately, the message is seldom delivered until grad school unless the students themselves figures it out and the country is full of college-educated people who think they have a right to an opinion about all sorts of things because they have little understanding of what would be involved in seriously coming to terms with real questions. The writers of non-fiction books, magazine articles, and op/eds don’t provide much of a remedy. We have no tradition of what the French call haute vulgarisation—the non-technical but otherwise uncompromising explanation of scholarly, philosophical, and scientific ideas—so the popularizers simply continue the hand holding and the hand waving of retail higher education.

Children flourish in the famous zone of proximal development, but eventually they have to learn to fly solo. Or, to vary the metaphor, eventually you throw the kid in the pool. Since our educational system is so indulgent, however, the kids are going to have to jump in themselves. We grownups need to resume our educations if we really want to know what was going on; and that requires, among other things, that we start reading grownup books.

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