Monday, June 11, 2018

Does Marshall McLuhan Solve the Education Crisis

The New Coach House

9 May 2018

Adopt a College

“The title of this essay is the theme of an advertisement in a current magazine. There are hundreds of colleges and universities in America today that cannot obtain a president at any price.”
Marshall McLuhan

published in This Magazine is about Schools, Autumn, 1968
by Marshall McLuhan

One strategy for encountering the new student curiosity and intrusiveness regarding the conduct of schools and colleges, could be called judo.

Instead of listening to their grievances concerning the form of education which they consider sterile and distasteful, instead of allowing them to get a foot in the door and find a place on some of the many committees, they could simply be invited in en masse:

"Ladies and gentlemen. it's all yours. The entire administration and staff will take a sabbatical. You can rearrange the entire curriculum and teaching procedures in any way you see fit. We will continue to draw our checks. You will receive nothing. On the other hand, you will be charged nothing. During the year that lies ahead, you will have full opportunity to acquaint yourselves with the functions of a university (or a high school), both past and present.

"The present educational arrangements are, indeed, hardware, inherited from earlier centuries. Most of it is of 19th century vintage. but phonetic literacy and mathematics date mostly from filth century Athens, It is this hardware that you regard, naturally, as the enemy, because you live unconsciously in a new environment of electric software or information. This new environment has eliminated your identity image, us any new environment does with any individual or group. New environments are always invisible. It is the preceding environment that is always blamed for the damage done by the new one.

"In his own time Plato was a radical enemy of the old educational establishment. Great new discoveries had been made as a result of the power of the phonetic alphabet to endow a whole culture with new perceptions of space and time. Visual or rational space had been discovered for the first time in human history. This new visual space opened the doors of perception to the world of Euclid, of Socratic dialectic and irony. The individual was born suddenly out of a tribal background.

"The educational establishment of Plato's day was represented by Homer and Hesiod. These poets were memorized by all students and they spent their lives meditating on the many levels of meaning contained in their coded wisdom. These meditations took the form of dialogue between master and student. The many forms of perception involved in the etymologies of each word were probed over and over. For example, the word, obscene, means ill omen. Anything out of the proper scheme, such as a flying saucer, was obscene. Later, the word acquired meanings from the theatrical scena. The Greek word for environment is perivallo, which means to strike from all sides at once. The young student discussed at length all the psychological implications of the etymology and all the tribal wisdom of many centuries that had gone into the formation of such a word.

"The bardic establishment was not written but oral and the student had to learn to sing these poems to the harp (knowing by harp or heart). The educated or upper class boy had to be a Pete Seeger plus.

"The 'content' of Homer and Hesiod embraced the entire history and corporate wisdom of the Greeks. The Works and The Days by Hesiod were poems for graduate students since they were concerned with the hidden causes of change in the world what we call scientific study today.

"With the advent of writing, Plato felt that the entire world of oral wisdom and accomplishment was obsolete and that the day of private reasoning and investigation had arrived. (See Preface to Plato by Eric Havelock.)
"The next 2500 years saw many variations on the Platonic program of individual enterprise in education. There grew up, especially in Roman times, the concept of eloquence as wisdom. The doctus orator was a new concept developed by Cicero especially, and translated to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance by St. Augustine, who was one of the greatest orators of his time in this learned sense.

"The ideal of eloquence as a learmed wisdom was inseparable from Eguklios Paideia (encyclopedia, the circle of the sciences). It was this conception of the integral nature of knowledge as a total field that led to the program called the trivium and the quadrivium. In effect, this program persisted until the Renaissance when it blossomed as never before. Printing gave much greater access to the encyclopedia of the Arts and Sciences than the written word had been able to do. The program continued in England and Europe well into the 18th century.

"Gradually, however, new scientific knowledge created specialisms that broke up the unity of the encyclopedic ideal. Even in the 19th century the scientists shared a classical training with their colleagues in the Arts, and there persists today in the sciences a preference for Greek terminology that does not reflect any philological competence.

"The educational establishment built around the concept of encyclopedic wisdom naturally depended Lupon writing or 'hardware'. The old establishment that Plato attacked was pre-literate 'software. It had been oral and communal and kind of show business. Roman and medieval education depended much more on hardware-on writing and paper and parchment. It also depended on travel and transportation of these materials. Plato and Aristotle had developed their universities on the idea of the static city state. The Roman and medieval ideal had been more mobile and federal.

"Today with the coming of the new electric software, both time and space have disappeared so far as access to information is concerned. We can learn about any period anywhere in the world. Moreover, software tends to be post-literate. Electric images easily supplant the printed hardware. The instantmatic character of these images destroys goal orientation in education Specialism and private directions for private careers quickly lose their relevance and confuse the vision and energies of all participants in the existing educational and commercial structures alike. The Military establishment is even more confused by a technology that permits total civilian participation in all military enterprises.

"Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, we are turning over the educational establishment to you at a time that is more transitional than any other encountered in any phase of human history. You have lost your sense of identity. You blame the old hardware, because you cannot see the new perivallo that has numbed your faculties.

"It may be of some use to you to know that the educational budget of big industry and the armed services is 20 to 30 times that of the communal education budget. There are many more highly trained minds at such places as G.E., 1.B.M., G.M. and AT&T. and on Madison Avenue than there are on all our campuses put together. These men are loaded with "gilt" feelings. They are also bored. They would love to get back on to a university campus or into a high school where they could become involved in sharing the learning process with students. Since you will receive no money for your educational efforts in this experimental year and will have no budget to hire staff. you may find it exciting to enlist the volunteer services of this vast, unacknowledged body of learned men who have created the new software environment that has climinated your sense of identity.

"For, it is the loss of identity that inspires 'violence'. Your struggles have no goals. Not one of you could articulate a single obiective for all your unrest and uncertainty. Without knowing it, you are questing for a new identity which cannot be private and which cannot be known until it has actually been made.

"We will now retire from the scene for one year, leaving the reshaping of it to your splendid energies. A year from now we shall inspect the fruit of your endeavors with the most benign curiosity. It has often been said that every breakdown is a breakthrough. We have broken down. The breakthrough is all yours. Good luck."

Such a judo move, requiring total participation of the dissatisfied students in a creative enterprise might produce some amazing and permanently valuable results. It would certainly be a very wasteful enterprise in many respects. But that would not be new.

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