Tuesday, December 13, 2011
What do we have to impose on students?
Do all students have to be philologists (as is often the case in Europe)? Do they all have to focus on a minor detail of the theory of perception, etc. (as seems to be the case in departments dominated by Analitic Philosophy)?
The departments I am more familiar with tend to think that textual criticism, linguistics and (much less often) a rigorous usage of philosophy are the climax of one's academic curriculum. By contrast, history of art (archaeology being an exception), often literature, sociology and religious studies are silently deemed to be apt for less clever students. This implicit assumption is perpetuated by the fact that, throughout the decades, clever students have been lead to study, e.g., linguistics, and are now clever instructors of linguistics, and so on with the other subjects.
Is this really the case? Is textual criticism, to name just one example, the main road to our understanding of texts? Is it so complex that one has to teach it at the beginning of a student's career, since later everyone would be unable to get enough time and energy to focus on it? More importantly, is it formative? In other words, are students trained in textual criticism (and so on) better students (or scholars), whatever they will later do? A very interesting lecture by Ernst Steinkellner on the day he received the Wittgenstein prize (see here, in German), proposed philology as a new way to embrace mutual understandings among cultures. Personally, I tend to teach philosophy hoping that students will become more aware of their implicit assumptions and hence, critical citizens. But I also suspect that each subject might be used as a bridge to oneself and the others, if only done with enough depth. If this is true, than insisting on just, say, philosophy, may have the disadvantage of creating students and scholars who are doing what they don't like, are suffering because of that and are very likely not to produce any interesting contribution, since they are just out of place.
What is your experience? Did you have to study stuff you disliked? Was it formative or just a waste of time?
I have been triggered to write this post by an interesting comment on a previous post, see here. On scholars who love what they work on, see this post.