19th century MOOCs

As I prepare for Courtney and my presentation on MOOCs tomorrow alongside working on my teaching philosophy for ENGL 611, I can’t help but share this passage from Emerson’s essay, “Education” (which has essentially always served as my teaching philosophy, anyway). It’s funny how the issues we’ll discuss tomorrow (and which scholars have been discussing for months) were the same even while Emerson described his ideal “schoolroom” in the 19th century. Emerson writes

A rule is so easy that it does not need a man to apply it; an automaton, a machine, can be made to keep a school so. It facilitates labor and thought so much that there is always the temptation in large schools to omit the endless task of meeting the wants of each single mind, and to govern by steam. But it is at a frightful cost. Our modes of Education aim to expedite, to save labor; to do for masses what cannot be done for masses, what must be done reverently, one by one: say rather, the whole world is needed for the tuition of each pupil. The advantages of of this system of emulation and display are so prompt and obvious, it is such a time-saver, it is so energetic on slow and on bad natures, and is of so easy application, needing no sage or poet, but any tutor or schoolmaster in his first term can apply it–that it is not strange that this calomel of culture should be a popular medecine. On the other hand, total abstinence from this drug, and the adoption of simple discipline and the following of nature, involves at once immense claims on the time, the thoughts, on the life of the teacher. It requires time, use, insight, event, all the great lessons and assistances of God; and only to think of using it implies character and profoundness; to enter on this course of discipline is to be good and great. It is precisely analogous to the difference between the use of corporal punishment and the methods of love. It is so easy to bestow on a bad boy a blow, overpower him, and get obedience without words, that in this world of hurry and distraction, who can wait for the returns of reason and the conquest of self; in the uncertainty too whether that will ever come? … Now the the correction of this quack practice is to import into Education the wisdom of life. Leave this military hurry and adopt the pace of Nature. Her secret is patience.”

I know that was a lot of 19th century rhetoric (and I don’t want to tell you that your teaching lacks the assistance of God) but I’m very intrigued by these issues and how they correlate with our contemporary technological advances. Start mulling this over, comrades!

One thought on “19th century MOOCs

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