Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sea Horse Courtship Dance: Cultures of learning, of flourishing learning, besides Ancient Greece and the Italian Renaissance?


What are historical examples, cross culturally, of people wanting and developing a culture of learning, of flourishing learning, besides ancient Greece and the Italian Renaissance?


Scott, I was making reference to the historical roots of American education. Prior to that there was no universal education. Start with Jefferson and move forward. The next big moment was the work of the Committee of Ten in 1898. It forms the basis for current thinking in curriculum.

It resolved that all student should received a classic liberal education. Is that correct? Should education be one size fits all, as is the current practice. Should content take precedence of core enabling skills? Is it really possible that "No Child Gets Left Behind (as is the Law)? Is that a realistic expectation or an oxymoron? Should we give more weight to individual differences as social science suggests?

Is the testing really formative?


In oblique response to your histories, I'm curious of American examples of cultures of learning? Some New England experiments? Mass movements, culturally? Where did people rise up and say we want to learn, and we need open schools? The Scottish diaspora in the U.S. (viz. Arthur Herman's book "The Scottish Enlightenment")? Just asking related questions ...


This is probably the ur-text on the subject:

I think one of the more recent problems of having a "culture of learning" is that those who would succeed... financially must move away from home ... which is to say that a nascent "culture of learning" can hardly be self-sustaining.

That said, consider that various movements started *outside* the school setting, including the free public library movement, the Chautaugua movement, etc. There have been some successes, but this has only been for the minority of people who participate (though sometimes, as with public libraries, a majority in some communities).


B, Please explain further ... in your view, are families generators of cultures of learning (examples?), which then gets interrupted because of dispersal for financial reasons? Here families would generate culture ... makes sense ...


I love your questions but have to speculate at some of the answers. :-)

I would assume the Puritan culture with establishment of Harvard would be a candidate. Jamestown/Williamsburg with William and Mary is another. Jefferson's jewel of public higher education at the University of Virginia is another.

Harvard and W&M were elitist. (still are) UVA really formed the first colony of public learning at Charlottesvile.

I live in the west and in frontier towns one of the first public institutions to be created was the community school. These were the expression of the public will to be educated. In an agrarian economy the 9 month school year was created to allow the children to participate in planting and harvesting. These schools were embodiment of the Jeffersonian thinking (3Rs) for all. High schools came later.

With the advent of High Schools came the call for standards. Standards for admission to college were the order of the day. The committee of 10 was formed and staffed primarily by academics. The president of Harvard for example. Therefore current curriculum is about a "College" bound mentality.


Families are certainly an important part, but so are the small-group dynamics and peer expectations found in schools.

Consider small town life in Iowa or Minnesota. I'd posit that they form a limited "culture of learning" inasmuch as learning is valued (really high average SAT scores in those states), but when the kids go off to college they seldom come home.

Add to that the pervasive "culture of entertainment" epitomized by broadcast television (and accentuated by the economics of entertainment in our culture) one gets, in my view, a "flattening" of what can be meant by a "culture of learning."


Here are NYT's Tom Friedman's thoughts (from August 24, 2010) on improving American education today: No easy answers ... he's suggesting cultural interventions.

Here are some World University and School links that focus on education: and to which I added Friedman's article and Hofstadter's book :)


A lot depends upon how you define learning ... it's culture dependent. It may also, I think, have little to do with education as a formal discipline and would, most often, apply to only a subset of the general population.

London in Shakespeare's time. New York in the 30s, 40,s and 50s (full of European intellectuals fleeing Germany). The Paris of Moliere or the Encyclopedists. The many Jewish communities that dotted Eastern Europe and studied Torah. The Baghdad of Harun al-Rashid.

There are thousands more. The above are some of the brighter lights. (And I apologize for ignoring eastern traditions.)


Other cultures of learning: China, obviously, due to Confucius, continuing to this day.
In Africa, Timbuktu was a center of education a thousand years ago.
In India, the University of Naropa goes back farther than that.
Even in Europe, education was more widely available than is often realized:
"Free education for the poor was officially mandated by the Church at the Third Lateran Council (1179), which decreed that every cathedral must assign a master to teach boys too poor to pay the regular fee; parishes and monasteries also established free schools teaching at least basic literary skills. With few exceptions, priests and brothers taught locally, and their salaries were frequently subsidized by towns. "
In the U.S. there were pockets of educationists all long; my patrilineal culture group (The Only Puritan Colony in the Southern States) was always big on education, and was involved in the founding of the Universities of Georgia, South Carolina, and California.
Here's an interesting current educational experiment:


Here are some World University and School - open, free, editable, like Wikipedia with MIT OCW - links that focus on education: and to which I added Hofstadter's book :)

( - August 30, 2010)

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