Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Adam Smith on teachers & teaching:

If the teacher happens to be a man of sense, it must be an unpleasant thing to him to be conscious, while he is lecturing his students, that he is either speaking or reading nonsense, or what is very little better than nonsense. It must, too, be unpleasant to him to observe that the greater part of his students desert his lectures, or perhaps attend upon them with plain enough marks of neglect, contempt, and derision. If he is obliged, therefore, to give a certain number of lectures, these motives alone, without any other interest, might dispose him to take some pains to give tolerably good ones. Several different expedients, however, may be fallen upon which will effectually blunt the edge of all those incitement to diligence. The teacher, instead of explaining to his pupils himself the science in which he proposes to instruct them, may read some book upon it; and if this book is written in foreign and dead language, by interpreting it to them into their own; or, what would give him less trouble, by making them interpret it to him, and by now and then making an occasional remark upon it, he may flatter himself that he is giving a lecture. The slightest degree of knowledge and application will enable him to do this without exposing himself to contempt or derision, or saying anything that is really foolish, absurd or ridiculous. The discipline of the college, at the same time, may enable him to force all his students to the most regular attendance upon this sham lecture and to maintain the most decent and respectful behavior during the whole time of the performance. 

The discipline of colleges and universities is in general contrived, not for the benefit of the students, but for the interest, or more properly speaking, for the ease of the masters. Its object is, in all cases, to maintain the authority of the master, and whether he neglects or performs his duty, to oblige the students in all cases to behave to him as if he performed it with the greatest diligence and ability. It seems to presume perfect wisdom in the one order, and the greatest weakness and folly in the other. [From The Wealth of Nations (1776), Bk. 5]

1 comment:

  1. 1776 is when Smith's book appeared and when the American Revolution took place. The American Revolution, which may have been a factor leading to the French Revolution, was one of the greatest expansions of liberty in history. Liberty and law go together; when liberty increases, people are more law abiding. They also are free to expand their knowledge. Science and liberty grow together. Universities become more democratic and therefore more educational. Being a professor teaches one's students but is also a wonderful way to learn. Teaching and learning, like liberty and law, are naural pairs. Both lead to happiness and security.