Monday, August 13, 2012

Educing the Young

The Latin word ducere is probably best translated as 'to lead'. In turn, it has spawned a large range of related words: most obviously 'duke' ('one who leads') and 'duct' ('a path that leads') — and then verbs like 'educe', 'seduce', 'traduce', 'induce' and 'deduce'. These are followed by associated adjectives and nouns, to a total somewhere around 200 different words.

But here we are today thinking about 'educing the young'. This is actually what 'education' is about — the Greeks called it 'pedagogy' in a more youth-focussed way. To educe is to lead out or draw out towards something, and from the mid-19th century or so, it meant 'to draw a conclusion from data'. In other words, education is a process which leads people to draw conclusions from whatever data they are given.

The young are particularly in need of such a process. The old have already drawn their conclusions, whether good, bad or ugly. But the young can still be saved enough for them to in turn become the old, at least.

The main problem of the age is that time is passing so fast, and change even faster, relative to what any of the old(er) know. What I mean is that the passage of time is a known change, but the things that come with it — technology, social upheaval — have never changed as quickly in the history of humanity.

This means that trying to lead people towards making conclusions (what you might call 'education towards eduction') is a thankless task. If you teach them through inductive logic, the risk of failure is high because the past is no longer an accurate guide to the future. If you teach them through deductive logic, the risk of failure is high because the rules are being remade everyday, and axioms are no longer the worthy authorities (Gk. axiomata) around which the universe rotates.

So how then should we educate the young? Two ideas appear to dominate.

First, some suggest that the accumulated weight of past learning will suffice. Some branches of learning have a very long shelf-life, so to speak — things like arithmetic and the core natural sciences come to mind. Some branches of learning constantly reinvent themselves, and are studied with that in mind — the arts and humanities come to mind. But that is almost everything, and so past methodologies will do, if not past knowledge.

Second, some suggest that the young should be taught to teach themselves. That is, the reinvention of self and of humanity should be the main methodology taught. This is rather Darwinian; those who can reinvent themselves well enough to survive and prosper in the next age of humanity will replicate their eductive memes and educative processes through appeal to the first idea.

You will note that I've not said WHAT the young ought to learn. To those who would like to think about it, I direct you towards a search of the venerable history of human education — specifically with the key phrase 'saber-tooth curriculum'. Enjoy.

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