11 September 2013

actual thinking, or fondly held delusion?

● A propos modern teaching and examination methods – which supposedly develop the skill of thinking, as opposed to mere learning – I thought a recent letter from Cambridge professor Roger Carpenter to the Guardian (via The Week) was revealing.
We have recently had a spate of letters ... asserting that, though school-leavers may be ignorant, they’re tremendously good at thinking and expressing themselves. This, with respect, is nonsense ... Here at university it now takes two years to get even our best students to approach a problem analytically and imaginatively, rather than expecting us to supply the correct answer to memorise ...

But it’s not all bad. What is enviable is the self-confidence and self-satisfaction that comes from not recognising their limited abilities.
It is, of course, an essential feature of mediocracy that it not merely rewrites the cultural landscape into a degraded version, but also conceals this transformation from its audiences, or at least makes it difficult for them to articulate it.
Exams must be believed to be just as demanding if not more, the average person must be thought to have become cleverer not stupider, liberty must be assumed to have increased not decreased, it’s announced that the quality of thinking has improved due to refined teaching methods, etc.
This is why redefinition is so crucial to the programme. If (say) justice in the old-fashioned sense could be said to be decreasing because of declining respect for private property, we simply redefine ‘justice’ to mean the reduction of inequality, effectively blocking that particular line of complaint.
(See p.173 for more details.)