The Quintivium

A philosopher, seeking to synthesize science and mysticism into the oxymoronic “spiritual science,” instigates a theory of education whereby teachers actively “hold students in consciousness” and contemplate inspiring pedagogical texts. The farcical philosophy behind this movement is anthroposophy, which postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world accessible to direct experience through inner development!

Another philosopher rebels against the “authoritarian” teachers and gives full freedom to students to decide what is to be taught. The philosophy behind this approach is pragmatism, which tries to synthesize scientific thinking with religiosity and older philosophies and is against any theory that has no immediate utility. Student’s social interaction and the practical usefulness of subject matters taught gain prominence in this pedagogy, while the interest of students in abstract subjects like mathematics is dubbed “showing off.”

A psychologist argues that any subject can be taught to any child at any stage of development, and bases his influential educational philosophy on this absurd idea. Students become inquirers charged with the intellectually Herculean task of discovery, while the teacher plays the role of a facilitator. This inquiry-based pedagogy takes away the “shoulders of giants” from under the students’ feet, causing them not to “see further than others” as Isaac Newton so famously did.

Another psychologist defines intelligence essentially as whatever human beings are capable of doing and bases a theory of education on the idea of multiple intelligences. According to this theory there are several categories of intelligence two of which are logical – mathematical and bodily – kinesthetic. Therefore, an American football superstar is as intelligent as a theoretical physics Nobel Laureate. And the inclusion of interpersonal category prompts an author rightfully to write a book about sexual intelligence!

None of these strategies – or countless others that are based on one kind of philosophy or another – has worked. Philosophy is, after all, just a collection of opinions. And opinions are not necessarily true;  even if they are, their truth is transient. Is there any pedagogy that is not based on a philosophy? To answer this question, we have to answer another one. What exactly is education? History can be a helpful guide.

2 thoughts on “The Quintivium”

  1. I always tell my first year chemistry students that the way to get good at doing chemistry problems is to do chemistry problems until they are bleeding from their eyes. Or that if they are having dreams from waking up from a dream that they are doing chemistry problems then they have ALMOST done enough problems.

    However, none of them want to believe me about this and think that it’s going to be just like high school where if they show up they pass the class. None of them seem to realize that there is no requirement that anyone pass the class. I just finished grading finals and have students emailing me about how they should have a higher grade because they tried just as hard as everyone else or that if they don’t get a higher grade then they will be set back a year in their progress. Neither of them apparently thought about any of this from the beginning of the semester. It sometimes makes me wonder if I’ll make it to retirement age in about 15 years. 🙁

    1. To me, any science is a skill, the derogatory word that “educators” use to discourage true learning. And as you correctly observed, to learn a skill, you have to repeat it over and over again. “Educators” look at science and math learning as a “process,” which eliminates the end result and emphasizes attempt: as long as students “try,” they are in the “process” of learning and should be given credit!

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