Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dick Cavett interview of Mortimer Adler

A comment on my book review of A Guideboock to Learning by Mortimer Adler led me to the the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas. This is an organization dedicated to bringing The Great Ideas to everyone.

The more I learn of Mortimer J. Adler the more I am impressed.

While exploring the web site I found an interivew of Mortimer Adler by Dick Cavett. The interview was in two parts on television. There are some great lines in first half of the interview:

CAVETT: ... You upset some people somewhere once by saying that you had only been educated in the last twenty-five years. I think that is a quote from an address you gave somewhere.
CAVETT: This, of course, because of your age being—is it seventy-five?
ADLER: Seventy-six.
CAVETT: Seventy-six, left out your—there is always an appreciative moan from the audience when someone like you or Bob Hope, who is that age, appears to be fifty. That left out, of course, the years of your formal education and—
ADLER: I call that schooling, not education.
CAVETT: Oh, please tell us the difference.
ADLER: Well, schooling is what goes on in institutions. It is only a preparation for education. No one ever gets educated in school. One of the troubles with the educational system is the wrong supposition that school is a place where you get an education, so that when you get a degree, that certifies you are an educated man or woman. That is far from the truth.
CAVETT: So now, yes, there is the phrase, “My son just completed his education.”
ADLER: Utterly crazy. Utterly crazy.

I also enjoyed Adler's account of studying under John Dewey:

ADLER: And John Dewey, who I had studied at Columbia in the early 1920s
CAVETT: The John Dewey?
ADLER: The John Dewey. He was, again, a kindly gentleman, who lectured very slowly so that I could take his lectures down in longhand. I would go home to my study and type the lecture out. I collected these lectures that I wrote about. And I noticed that what he said on Tuesday was inconsistent with what he said the previous Thursday. So I would write him a letter, and say, “Dear Professor Dewey, last Thursday you said . . . ” and I would quote. “But this Tuesday you said . . . and that does not seem quite consistent to me. Would you please explain?” Well, he came to class and said, “A student in class wrote me a letter.” He read the letter and then tried to explain. I wrote the answer down. And the answer didn’t solve the problem. So I wrote him another letter. And this went on for three weeks. And he finally had his assistant come to me, and say, “Dr. Dewey wishes you would stop writing him letters.”

I think John Dewey did great harm to education in America. I find it amusing that he wasn't consistent.

Over the years I've heard several references to How to Think About the Great Ideas: From the Great Books of Western Civilization. Maybe I'm now old enough to start in on my education.

Technorati tags: Great Ideas, ,


Eric Holcombe said...

Great post - thanks for sharing.

Henry Cate said...

You are welcome.

I am glad you enjoyed it.

Crimson Wife said...

I personally think Dewey gets a bit of a bum rap. There are a lot of bad things done by "progressivists" in his name that really aren't his fault. For example, I think he'd be appalled at the anti-intellectualism found in much of "progressive" education. Dewey may have been in favor of "child-led" learning, but he was pretty pro-intellectual. He wanted children to be free to pursue their own individual intellectual passions rather than have some cookie-cutter "one size fits all" curriculum. Which is *NOT* the same thing as dumbing down the schools (unfortunately the practice of some of Dewey's proteges).

Henry Cate said...

I am not an expert on John Dewey. He may have had good intentions, but I think he helped inflict great harm on public education.

In "Left Back A Century of Battles over School Reform" Diane Ravitch reports that progressive education "... as defined by its leading spokemsn, John Dewey, was to make the schools an instrument of social reform." (p. 57) She also quotes him saying that the school "was a fundamental lever of social progress and social reform." (p.58)

As a parent I find this reprehensible. Schools should not be undermining how I teach my children.

It appears to me that John Dewey helped start a movement in public schools where teachers felt they had a right to change how children thought, rather than teach them subjects. Up until John Dewey most teachers saw their responsibility as teaching academic subjects.

The Wikipedia entry on John Dewey says:

"While Dewey's educational theories have enjoyed a broad popularity during his lifetime and after, they have a troubled history of implementation due to the fact that there were no teachers qualified to incorporate these ideas. (Experience and Education 1938). Dewey's writings can be difficult to read, and his tendency to reuse commonplace words and phrases to express extremely complex reinterpretations of them makes him susceptible to misunderstanding. So while he held the role of a leading public intellectual, he was often misinterpreted, even by fellow academics. Many enthusiastically embraced what they mistook for Dewey's philosophy, but which in fact bore little or a distorted resemblance to it."

I think he was an idealist who didn't understand the realities of public schools. He wanted some pie in the sky school model where children would be molded.

christinemm said...

I really enjoyed the Adler intereview excerpts. Thanks for posting this!

Max Weismann said...

We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery--three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos, lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

Three hours with Mortimer Adler on one DVD. A must for libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

I cannot over exaggerate how instructive these programs are--we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

Please go here to see a clip and learn more: