Thursday, May 31, 2012

Jacques Barzun on
gadgets and education

I find in these observations a prescient defense of offline education:

It is idle to talk about what could be done by gadgets — gramophone disks or sound films. We know just what they can do: they aid teaching by bringing to the classroom irreplaceable subject matter or illustrations of it. The disk brings the music class a whole symphony; the film can bring Chinese agriculture to students in Texas; it could even be used more widely than it is to demonstrate delicate scientific techniques. But this will not replace the teacher — even though through false economy it might here and there displace him. In theory, the printed book should have technologically annihilated the teacher, for the original “lecture” was a reading from a costly manuscript to students who could not afford it. Well, why is it so hard to learn by oneself from a book? Cardinal Newman, himself a great teacher, gives part of the answer: “No book can convey the special spirit and delicate peculiarities of its subject with that rapidity and certainty which attend on the sympathy of mind with mind, through the eyes, the look, the accent, and the manner, in casual expressions thrown off at the moment, and the unstudied turns of familiar conversation.”

Jacques Barzun, Teacher in America (Boston: Little, Brown, 1945).
As Barzun goes on to say, “Teaching is not a process; it is a developing emotional situation,” mind to mind, face to face.

Related posts
Offline, real-presence education
Talk to the face

comments: 3

Daughter Number Three said...

Love this, especially his distinction between replace and displace.

will said...

Have you read today's Rude Pundit?

Michael Leddy said...

DN3, yes, that’s a nice distinction. Barzun’s pronouncements on the present day leave me cold (reminding me of an old professor of mine, telling me at a party, “Read The Decline of the West! Read The Decline of the West!” But when Barzun writes about education, I find him persuasive.

Bill, I know a number of people who could’ve written the first four paragraphs of that post. Sad to say, the story they tell is common. And I agree: raising salaries to attract stronger candidates would do much to change things.