On liberal education

During a conversation with whisky, a gentleman used the expression “teacher training.” He thought it ought to be improved. I had heard the phrase before. It struck me as unhappy: only two terms, and the one cancelling the other in the post-modern way. Surely we should use more words to conceal our self-contradictions. Even the standard of blathering is in decline.

I proposed “teacher teaching,” or alternatively, “trainer training,” insisting upon the distinction between the two activities. There may be some slight overlap between them, but training is what we provide to the human animal. Teaching extends to the human soul. Not that we aren’t both body and soul. There is, however, a question which is higher; or even, which will visibly decay.

Mrs Jessie Glynn, my elderly and wise instructress in Latin some years ago (about fifty, I now calculate), was very careful with this distinction. She told her pupils they were to be trained, as dogs. But for relief, there would also be some teaching. We would read and discuss some Roman history and literature; we could apply our training to little exercises in imaginative composition, and poetical translation (both ways); and to savaging each other’s best efforts. We might consider a few Roman ideas, that the Romans hardly ever examined, about how to live and so on; and compare them with our unexamined own. We would engage in the most frivolous time-travel, thereby. Training, she said, is required to learn a language; but teaching begins when we read with understanding, and come to chatter in it. It is that exhilarating moment when we graduate from “Latin” to “Classics.” The sooner we get to chattering the better; but the training of necessity comes first.

Small children take joy in being trained. They are suited to it by nature: their little memories are sharp sharp sharp. Their bodies are quite flexible. As we grow we move from training to “learning.”

Oddly, the contemporary mind, such as it is, hates training but omits teaching. The great majority of our college children go there to avoid a liberal education. But they are already too long in the tooth to benefit from rote training, the way they could have done when they were smaller.

They have minds, true, but no use for them. They want training for skills that could make them money. They are looking forward to an “intensely competitive” job market, in which they will be competing with robots, more and more. They need to become robots, but for the sake of competition must outpace their robot rivals in quickness and accuracy.

Had they been taught anything, they would already know that they are going to lose. For robots can do most anything that is beneath the full human dignity, quicker and more accurately than they ever will.

I wonder if Roman children, or Chinese for that matter in the Han, said, “When I grow up I want to be an abacus.” The modern solution is, never to grow up; to concede the battle with the robots and go on pogey instead. There is this “one percent” of people who are very, very rich — they seem to own all of the robots. Each, surely, can afford to pay for ninety-nine abject losers.