Re-opening the discussion (Part 4 of 5)

LM disse…

Ester, thank you for a prompt reply.I still disagree with you in some points, and have difficulties understanding others.

First of all, I’m not sure your analogy helps – I’ll go back to it at the end. I’ll start with the points you hightlighted, saying what I think of each of them, which of them worried me in my original post.

1) Is History that is necessary, or the knowledge of History?
I have no doubts that, if any of these is necessary, it is the knowledge of History. You are right to say that without History there is no knowledge of History. But you are wrong in saying that without knowledge of History there is no History.
We obviously do not know all the details of the History – I don’t know – of the Mayans, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The broader point is obvious: the knowledge of X implies (or presupposes) the existence of X, but the existence of X does not imply (or presupposes) the knowledge of X (unless you defend some radical kind of idealism, according to which everything exists exists as ideas in the mind of God).

2) All of History, or just a part? And if just a part, which?
You say that every knowledge of History contributes, and that every part contributes a bit. Why do you think that? I do not see any evidence to support this causal relation, and a lot of what you say in answer to (3) seems to create difficulties.

3) Necessity vs. sufficiency of the teaching of History
Yes, it is good to establish the discussion on these terms. But I was not mixing the two when I said what I said – what I wanted was precisely to show the abyss between necessity and sufficiency.

So we agree (provisionally): the knowledge of History is necessary, but not sufficient to the active exercise of one’s citizenship.

The first anti-optimism point is precisely that what the law proposes to do is, once again, to give us a knowledge that is necessary, but not sufficient. This seems to go back to the situation you criticise all the time on your blog: a theory that does not generate any practice. You could even say that we will have a lot of students who know how to exercise their citizenship, but with no motivation for doing so. In this case, what’s the gain?

I had understood your brother’s cynical remark this way: life outside of school teaches us more practice (and sometimes theory) than school. If things are so, why celebrate?

But the bigger point, which is my complaint in question (2) above, is precisely about whether the knowledge of History is in fact necessary for the active exercise of one’s citizenship. And precisely on this point you vacillate: you agree that many people who know nothing of History exercise their citizenship well. Well then, is History necessary for citizenship or is it not?

You conclude saying, much more modestly, that “it helps a lot”, and that seems to me too little. Would “helping a lot” be good enough reason to make it a mandatory subject? I mean, if the main argument for passing the policy was that Philosophy (or a part of it) was necessary for actively exercising one’s citizenship, it seems that your current acknowledgement that it only “helps a lot” (and maybe less than a bus ride) undermines any credibility for the new policy. And any grounds for optimism.

4) Why be optimistic?
In the end, you defend very shallow ground for your optimism: you say that there are two benefits in including History in the elementary curriculum: to make this knowledge more accessible and to bring more value to the profession.

I understand well your second reason, and find it a virtuous type of selfishness. More than that, I agree with you: it is good to bring value to my profession.

But I see two problems here. The first has to do with what you yourself acknowledge after – the lack of qualified teachers. Philosophy being taught the way it is, I would prefer it if it were not taught at all. The textbooks are bad, the teachers also seem to be. In this case, I think this measure is a disservice to the profession (see comment above which refers to philosophy as “nap class”). In short, I agree with you goal (we should value our profession), but I’m very suspicious of the means to achieve it (make it mandatory in high school).

The second problem has to do with how provincial your defence is. It is good for History teachers that History should become mandatory, but what about the students?
As for your other reason for optimism, to make knowledge more accessible, I agree that this is good. But this is miles away from the initial policy proposal, and of your initial optimism. To make certain types of knowledge more accessible is good, but not because the knowledge itself is good, but simply because it is good for students to have access to a greater variety of knowledge, so that they can choose one to which dedicate themselves. According to this line of argument, the greater the diversity of types of knowledge we offer, the better – but this is compatible with philosophy (and other subjects like Russian Literature and Calculus) being electives, not mandatory subjects. If it were for me to defend any thesis, I would defend this one.

5) The History/Philosophy analogy
I didn’t get the reason for your analogy. Everything would be clear if you had said Philosophy instead of History. Furthermore, given the widely divergent nature of the two subjects, it would be possible, for instance, that we had very disparate conclusions: for instance, one of these two might be necessary to the active exercise of one’s citizenship, while the other might not.

In my view, it is not clear that any of the two be necessary (or sufficient) to the exercise of one’s citizenship, therefore the analogy was harmless, but also useless.

But a detail caught my attention. In the middle of things somewhere,when talking of the practical advantages of the knowledge of History, you change subjects: instead of saying how the knowledge of History influences the exercise of one’s citizenship, you speak about how it can make someone enter History. This seems interesting – I mean, you seem to take it as History’s natural vocation that of producing historical agents. The natural thing then would be to think that philosophy makes philosophers, not citizens. What then is the connection between philosophy and citizenship? The doubt remains.


End of Part 4


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