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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"Education and Soulcraft"

Paul discussed, a few months ago, Stanley Fish's new and much-remarked book, "Save the World on Your Own Time."  The review of Fish's book in a recent issue of First Things magazine, by Gilbert Meilaender ("Education and Soulcraft") got me thinking more about Fish's argument that the task of university teachers is instruction, not formation.  "I haven't the slightest idea," Fish says, "of how to help students become creative individuals.  And it is decidedly not my job to produce citizens for a pluralistic society or for any other. . . .  To be sure, some of what happens in the classroom may play a part in the fashioning of a citizen, but that is neither something you can count on . . . nor something you should aim for." 

As a good right-winger, I suppose I should be delighted by a Fishian take-down of hyper-PC modern-university follies and academics' self-importance.  Still . . . I cannot deny that, when I reflect on what I see as my "vocation" as a law teacher, I *do* aspire to (among other things) contribute helpfully to the formation of my students and to the integration of their lives.  Obviously, self-awareness and humility are required here.  Still, am I wrong?  (For what it's worth, and for my own "take" on the connection between education and "soulcraft," take a look at this essay.)


Posted by Rick Garnett on November 25, 2008 at 02:07 PM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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i think the difficulty is an ambiguity in "education", which can refer primarily to intellectual development through study and instruction or to the more general process of formation analyzed by Adams and which, according to Fish, the university ought not to be attempting.

It seems to me that typical academic work can legitimately aim at cultivating certain intellectual virtues--such as the standards of a discipline, a general regard for truth and intellectual integrity; it would be both hubris and a kind of category mistake to hope for more.

If the university is to get at the more general process it will do so through the extracurricular environment--as Meilaender notes, most universities have retreated from that effort or have effectively encouraged a regime of unbounded individualism (supplemented by groupthink on certain topics).

Professional education in medicine can do more at the postgraduate level, at which time housestaff are immersed in what is effectively a formative experience. Is there an analogue for law?

Posted by: TomH | Nov 26, 2008 10:15:40 AM

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