Monday, February 16, 2015

Back to the cave: Dave Brat edition

There's been a bit of buzz about Dave Brat's take on the history of pedagogy, and now IHE has picked it up:
U.S. Representative Dave Brat, a Virginia Republican, is in his first term in Congress and is best known for having defeated Eric Cantor, who at the time was the House majority leader, in the Republican primary in their district last year. Brat, an economist, taught at Randolph-Macon College before entering Congress, and he cited that experience last week during committee debate on programs to support elementary schools. Brat's theme was that education funding isn't needed.
“The greatest thinkers in Western civ were not products of education policy,” he said. “Socrates trained Plato on a rock and then Plato trained in Aristotle roughly speaking on a rock. So, huge funding is not necessary to achieve the greatest minds and the greatest intellects in history.”
I focus less on 'rock' (really Dave? I bet you were the first to grouse when the technology in your classroom didn't work promptly and perfectly) and more on 'trained' because the repeated use of 'trained' rather than 'educated'  reflects Bratt's underlying view of education, one increasingly shared by academics. We 'train' dogs and athletes---training involves the development of specific habituated responses, the pre-set goals of the process, whether 'sitting' or 'staying' on command, or hitting a ball with a bat or racket. 'Educating' (from the Latin meaning 'leading out') involves the growth of the student, in interaction with the teacher, in understanding some specific content, its history and methods, its flaws and shortcomings, new directions for development, and why it is worthwhile.

Plato's prisoners in the cave, being cued to respond to the shadows on the wall, are apt representations of Bratt's view. But in Plato's view (and not just his, but the 'greatest thinkers in Western civ') this 'training' leads to mere opinion, not knowledge, and certainly not wisdom. What it leads to is Bratt.
Image by Ken Stout

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