Saturday, June 20, 2009

" is taken for magic..."

"Welcome boys and girls! Welcome to Hogwarts School of Science and Philosophy. Please take out your wands and your copy of..." Ahem!

Yes, I thought you might laugh. In our Saturday half-holiday we have finally gotten to Jaki's collection of essays titled Numbers Decide - which seems to have a somewhat greater proportion of humour to it than the others. I must tell you I am grateful for being a Chestertonian, since it is by reading Chesterton one really begins to appreciate the uses of humour - by this means, one can see how splendidly Jaki uses humour in his own work.

I can't recall if I mentioned before that this collection contains two interesting essays on education, and that a very suitable research project for our Society (or indeed for a topic-seeking grad student) would be to examine Jaki, Chesterton and Newman on education. Certainly these three fit together in a useful fashion. There is no particular book of Jaki's which has education in itself as its primary topic - certainly nothing to compare with Newman's The Idea of a University and University Sketches - or even a large section of a book like GKC's What's Wrong With the World. But the two essays in Numbers Decide certainly contain much worth our consideration, and not only for those who wish to teach science or philosophy.

I made a selection for our half-holiday, and having re-read it was wondering why I thought it was so funny. Perhaps it will not provide quite as hearty a lift as some of our other selections, but having read not only the Hogwarts stories but many others of the fairy-tale and mystery genre, I do think the pivoting word of "magic" goes very far... but before I give you the selection I feel it necessary to make an aside here, in case you somehow miss the point:

No one seems to have noticed the very curious oblique reference from the Hogwarts Seven to the famous Pirotechnia of Biringuccio, a very early treatise on metallurgy and mining. It is simply this: Hogwarts presumes that its students have already acquired all the basic skills of reading and writing! (I seem to recall there some use of mathematics as well, but they sure have to read and write a lot; I thought it very funny to hear essay lengths assigned by "inches of parchment".) Those skills, I beg to point out, are not accomplished by magic. Or rather, those skills are a transcendent form of "magic" - a magic which is open to muggle and wizard alike, providing they bother to work at obtaining the skill! (They must be diligent at that work - from diligo = I love; they must have discipline - from discipulus a scholar, disciple.) But discussion of this and its parallel to the Pirotechnia I leave for another day; see here for my brief review and here for the relevant excerpt.

Having said that, let us hear Professor Jaki on magic...

Compared with these two notions, the object and subject of education, quite secondary should seem the manner or the technique of the procedure, or the educational skill, which often passes for the art of education. As long as those two, the subject and the object of education, were in the focus, and not the technique or skill of educating, no one assumed that the student, the pupil has a built-in fund of information, a fund born with him, so to speak, that can be cajoled out of him or her. It became the dubious privilege of education in recent decades to take education for magic whereby one can prompt the student to rediscover the rules of mathematics and the rules of grammar, and even the skills needed for the various arts such as drawing. Luckily they are not encouraged to compose music. They are, however, being taught that computers can take the place of composers. So they are hardly encouraged to care about learning music, which, however, was a principal branch of classical liberal education.
[SLJ Numbers Decide 87-8]

No comments: