K-12: Let’s Listen to a Real Educator

Dec 11, 2018 by

I  think it’s a fair suspicion that our Education Establishment lie much too often. If not that, their ideas are narrow, their horizons limited. Most children, they seem to believe, are mud, lacking any special gifts.

Last week I met a different kind of educator, a Roman named Quintilian, 35-100 AD. (He and Cicero, 106-63 BC, have long been considered the two great masters of oratory, language, and education.) 

All it took was a few quotes and I knew that Marcus Fabius Quintilianus was brilliant, big-minded, and bold. If we had a dozen guys like this, the ed games are over. John Dewey and his gang would slink away. Quintilian is my kind of educator, because he says such things as this:.

“There is no foundation for the complaint that only a small minority of human beings have been given the power to understand what is taught to them, the majority being so slow-witted that they waste time and labor. On the contrary, you will find that the greater number quick to reason and prompt to learn. This is natural to man: as birds are born for flying, horses for speed, beasts of prey for ferocity, so are we for mental activity and resourcefulness.”

 Oh my, isn’t that beautiful, and completely unexpected.

 Discussing people who disagreed with his belief in teaching many subjects at once, Quintilian retorted: “These critics do not appreciate the power of the human mind; it is so nimble and quick, so ready to look in all directions, that it cannot even concentrate exclusively on one thing at a time but applies its powers to many objects, not only on the same day but at the same moment.” (All Quintilian quotes are from article by Paul O’Neill.

Quintilian explained that “variety refreshes and restores the mind” after asking why men should not “divide hours among other concerns.” He further added that “the learner will be refreshed by change just as the stomach is refreshed by a variety of sustenance and nourished more appetizingly by a number of different foods.” Overall, Quintilian emphasized that “Study depends on the will to learn, and this cannot be forced. Thus renewed and refreshed, they will bring to their learning both more energy and that keener spirit.”

Quintilian also claimed that the “path to excellence…is extremely easy….We have only to watch nature and follow her.” He explained that “nature created us to have the right attitudes…to learn the better course” and that “it ought to be easier to live according to nature than against her will.” He had great confidence that humans could acquire knowledge despite their shortcomings. “But even if we fail, those who make an effort to get to the top will climb higher than those who from the start despair of emerging where they want to be, and stop right at the foot of the hill.”

Reading, writing, and speaking were considered by Quintilian to be the most important functions of the pupil. Our so-called educators can hardly bother with any of the three.

I am struck by the vast difference between Quintilian and the ideologues we have now. Notice that Dewey and his colleagues don’t talk much about the teacher’s real role but of the school’s real role, which is to say of Dewey’s role. For Dewey, schools are a way to impose his views on millions of children.

So what is the big difference between this genuine Roman educator and a guy like John Dewey? I believe that Dewey wanted to create a school environment that would be a natural conduit through which everybody and everything flowed inevitably to socialism, but without mentioning this fact to the victims of his grand strategy.

  Our self-appointed experts like to say that Dewey’s education is student-centered; this is a misnomer. That would be too individualistic for Dewey. He’s not interested in doing things that are good for the student. He’s interested in doing what’s good for his vision for the world.

Quintilian is telling students how to be successful administrators, speakers, lawyers, politicians, leaders, citizens, etc. So you might also call it success-centered. That’s a fundamentally different mission from anything Dewey has on his mind.

Quintilian wanted to help each student be better at everything— life, career, reading, speaking, writing. Progressive socialists want to help each student fit into an ideological mold. Success is when you suppress the individual’s personality and indeed the individual’s prospects for success. Our socialists like to level everything down to mediocre. That’s why invariably we feel that Dewey’s vision is cramped and dreary.

Mona McNee says it best (in her book “The Great Reading Disaster”: “Deweyism is inherently self-contradictory. For all his talk of child-centeredness, he really aimed to sacrifice children’s individuality to the group…While he derided the traditional authority he wanted to replace, he did not hesitate to incorporate more intense authority of his own.”

Listen again: “As birds are born for flying, horses for speed, beasts of prey for ferocity, so are we for mental activity and resourcefulness.” Think how easy it would be to design an excellent school starting from that vision.

(Bruce Deitrick Price’s new book is “Saving K-12 – What happened to our public schools? How do we fix them?”)

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