Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Those Who Can't Teach . . . Write?

I'll be the first to say how much I love Milton's poetry, and I was, at least on this blog. I love what he sees in Bible and the way he makes it not only literarily accessible to the masses, but emotionally accessible as well. What a gift. Not only do I respect him as a literary genius, but I recognize his hard work in many politic activist causes such as divorce. He seems to have a very real concept of that system. He understands who might need divorce and what it would take society to get there. Education, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter.

The problem must have started when he was pestered several times by a good friend to fight for a cause that he even tells us in the text is not his first priority. He says: 

To write now the reforming of Education, though it be one of the greatest and noblest designs that can be thought on, and for the want whereof this Nation perishes, I had not yet at this time been induc't, but by your earnest entreaties, and serious conjurements; as having my mind for the present half diverted in the pursuance of some other assertions, the knowledge and the use of which, cannot but be a great furtherance both to the enlargement of truth, and honest living, with much more peace.
The whole letter can be found online. Because of this simple problem, his lack of knowledge about the system, thinking everyone is as dedicated as he is, and an overwhelming sense of idealism, we encounter all kinds of incongruent notions and completely impractical solutions in his text. I've listed some of them here:
  • everyone will magically have time to be completely proficient in everything by the age of 20
  • everyone will naturally be drawn to the same subjects he is
  • his curriculum and methods will be adaptable to every culture in England
  • it would not take longer to build these specialized schools than it would for them to become obsolete
These are only a few of the elements in his essay that require fairy dust. As amazing a writer as he is, the fact remains that he is not a teacher, nor is he practiced in the common problems encountered in that area. It's not that teachers don't want to change the world, it's that the world is already changing too fast to develop one method that works for everyone. Perhaps if he'd had a little experience, he could have written real suggestions.


  1. He did have some experience with teaching. The footnotes mention that he was a tutor to his nephews and he taught them Greek in about a year. I agree though, his curriculum is a bit insane.

  2. I wonder ifhe had taught in an even more professional setting whether or not his notions would have been a bit more practical. And I'm curious...what did Halbert make of it?

  3. I didn't quite get a chance to read that footnote! That's fascinating. It explains why he thinks he knows so much about education. One on one teaching and classroom, bureaucracy-based teaching are really different. And Elise, I too would love to see Halbert's reaction.

  4. I think his literary/historical studies would have engendered within him some of his ideas on education as well. If you think about the 'great thinkers' of antiquity, for example, they focused on pretty much the same things, and their teaching paradigms were similarly based more around small-scale group learning. Plato learned at Socrates's feet, Aristotle at Plato's, Alexander the Great of Macedon at Aristotle's, and so thinking that such an educational methodology would produce great thinkers was not necessarily so farfetched. Aside from that, within his own society, there seem to have been some number of scholars/thinkers who embodied precisely the same talent and drive as he proposes; these would have likely served as strong influences on his educational paradigms.