Philosophical and Psychological
Foundations of Education
QUOTATIONS BY PHILOSOPHER
 

MARK EDMUNDSON

Mark Edmundson  

My Educational Philosophy
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Aristotle
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de Bary
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Excerpts from Why Read?

We teachers have become timid and apologetic. We are not willing to ask the questions that matter. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 6


Immersed in preprofessionalism, swimming in entertainment, my students have been sealed off from the chance to call everything they've valued into question, to look at new ways of life, and to risk everything. For them, education is knowing and lordly spectatorship, never the Socratic dialogue about how one ought to live one's life. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 16


Socrates recognizes that getting his students to reveal themselves as they are, or appear to themselves to be, is the first step in giving them the chance to change. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 27


Beneath that veneer of cool, students are full of potent questions; they want to know how to navigate life, what to be, what to do. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 28


Get to your students' Final Narratives, and your own; seek out the defining beliefs. Uncover central convictions about politics, love, money, the good life. It's there that, as Socrates knew, real thinking starts. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 28


The best beginning reader is often the one with the wherewithal to admit that, living in the midst of what appears to be a confident, energetic culture, he among all the rest is lost. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 33


The student must be willing to become as articulate as possible about what he has believed—or what he has been asked to believe—up until this point. He must be willing to tell himself who he is and has been, and possibly, why that will no longer quite do. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 34


One of the most important jobs a teacher has is to allow students to make contact with their ignorance. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 35


The best literature tends to be a layered experience. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 41


True education, as Friedrich Schiller rightly saw it, ought to fuse mind and heart. Current education in the liberal arts does precisely the opposite. At the end of this road lies a human type bitterly and memorably described in Weber: 'Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.' ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 45


We need to learn not simply to read books, but to allow ourselves to be read by them. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 46


True humanistic study is not geared to generalized, portable truths; it is geared to human transformation. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 51

But as inspired religious teachers and artists of every stripe demonstrate all the time, the process of human growth—when it entails growth of the heart as well as of the mind—is never particularly clean or abstract. To grow it is necessary that all of our human qualities come into play, and if some of those qualities are not pretty, then so be it. But to keep them to the side so as to preserve our professional dignity—that is too much of a sacrifice. (Men and women die every day, perish in the inner life . . . for lack of what we have to offer.)

~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 67

I think that a humanistic education begins in literature because, unlike philosophy, literature does not assume that one or two or five paths are enough to offer human beings. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 69


Bitter, brutal thoughts can grow prolifically in the mind's unlighted cellars. But when we bring them into the world and examine them dispassionately, they often lose their force. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 84


A good classroom is a free-speech zone, where everything can be expressed, and where, at times, one will read authors who are not, in the teacher's opinion, conducive to a form of the good life, but are prophets of cruelty and hatred. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 85


Humanism is the belief that it is possible for some of us, and maybe more than some, to use secular writing as the preeminent means for shaping our lives. That means that we might construct ourselves from novels, poems, and plays, as well as from works of history and philosophy, in the way that our ancestors constructed themselves (and were constructed) by the Bible and other sacred texts. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 86


The scholar by dint of hard work and imagination can, at will, merge himself with the authors who matter to him. By the exercise of his own heart's intelligence, he manages to keep them alive in the present. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, pp. 89-90


My job is to continue the lives of the poets on in the present, to make them available to those living now who might need them. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 90


The initial feeling of being swept off your feet by a book has got to be followed by more thoughtful commitment, as marriage follows love. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 94


"Shall I tell you the secret of the true scholar? It is this: Every man I meet is my master in some point, and in that I learn of him." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, as quoted by Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 100


The result of never brooding over major issues is likely to be that one follows the crowd. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 101


The kind of reading that I have been describing here—the individual quest for what truth a work reveals—is fit for virtually all significant forms of creation. We can seek vital options in any number of places. They may be found for this or that individual in painting, in music, in sculpture, in the arts of furniture making or gardening. Thoreau felt he could derive a substantial wisdom by tending his bean field. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 111


Such a wide realization, which coincides with the foundations of a widespread democracy, as well as with the flourishing of novels, holds that there are multiple ways of apprehending experience, and multiple modes of internal organization, or disorder. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 113


We need to be open to the possibility that our current students, who are less rebellious than any group I have encountered, may well know things that we do not. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 115


We all get socialized by our parents and teachers, ministers and priests. Studying the humanities is about getting a second chance. It's not about being born again, but about growing up a second time, this time around as your own educator and guide, Virgil to yourself. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 122


Over time, almost all [graduate students in the humanities] see that to thrive in the profession, they must make themselves marketable, and that often means betraying themselves. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 124


To teach without the conviction that the book at hand might become someone's secular Bible is to betray the heart of the humanities. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 124


One's literal identity—the product of race, class, gender, and socialization—is not the sole, and very often not the central, ground for literary education. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 126


Knowledge of the other without a corresponding self-knowledge is a supremely dangerous acquisition. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 126


The question we would ultimately ask of any work of art is this: Can you live it? ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 129


Books should be called major and become canonical when over time they provide existing individuals with live options that will help them change for the better. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 129


A little bit of tolerant thinking about the sorts of erotic and adventurous fantasies that we're drawn to can tell us a good deal about what's not present in our own lives. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 131


The mark of an educated person should be the ability to see the differences between entertainment and more nurturing, vital stuff. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, pp. 134-135


When human beings try to come to terms with who they are and describe who they hope to be, the most effective medium is words. Through words we represent ourselves to ourselves; we fix our awareness of who and what we are. ~ Mark Edmundson, Why Read?, p. 135


Excerpts from "On the Uses of a Liberal Education"

[In many university classrooms today] strong emotional display is forbidden. ~ Mark Edmundson, "On the Uses of a Liberal Education"


What [students] will not generally do . . . is indict the current system. ~ Mark Edmundson, "On the Uses of a Liberal Education"


We may be on a conveyor belt, but it's worse down there on the filth-strewn floor. ~ Mark Edmundson, "On the Uses of a Liberal Education"


More and more of what's going on in the university is customer driven. ~ Mark Edmundson, "On the Uses of a Liberal Education"


Are we really getting students ready for Socratic exchange with professors when we push them off into vast lecture rooms . . . and signal in our myriad professorial ways that we often have much better things to do than sit in our offices and talk with them? ~ Mark Edmundson, "On the Uses of a Liberal Education"


What [students] seem to want most is to talk to one another. ~ Mark Edmundson, "On the Uses of a Liberal Education"


An air of caution and deference is everywhere. ~ Mark Edmundson, "On the Uses of a Liberal Education"


[Students'] presences tend to be very light; they almost never change the temperature of the room. ~ Mark Edmundson, "On the Uses of a Liberal Education"


By embracing the works and lives of extraordinary people, you can adapt new ideals to revise those that came courtesy of your parents, your neighborhood, your clan—or the tube. ~ Mark Edmundson, "On the Uses of a Liberal Education"


If we teachers do not endorse genius and self-overcoming, can we be surprised when our students find their ideal images in TV's latest persona ads? ~ Mark Edmundson, "On the Uses of a Liberal Education"


One can't simply wave a curricular wand and reverse acculturation. ~ Mark Edmundson, "On the Uses of a Liberal Education"


A willingness on the part of the faculty to defy student conviction and affront them occasionally—to be usefully offensive—also might not be a bad thing. ~ Mark Edmundson, "On the Uses of a Liberal Education"


 

 

 
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