Revolution Lullabye

June 23, 2009

Anderson, Prescribing the Life of the Mind

Anderson, Charles W. Prescribing the Life of the Mind. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1993.

Anderson offers his critique of the contemporary American university curriculum and offers his vision of an alternative that would bring the disciplines together under the pursuit of practical reason. Influenced by Dewey, Anderson believes that a unifying force in the university – one that brings together the disciplines – can only be taught through and by the disciplines, and so it is the duty of the faculty to create a core curriculum that threads together the different areas of intellectual and practical inquiry in a way that students will find coherent and meaningful. The free elective system, marked by a core curriculum where students take a wide variety of courses that don’t necessarily speak to each other, puts the onus on the students to find the coherence when they don’t even have a sense of the map of the breadth of university knowledge. Practical reason is characterized by ongoing, purpose-driven inquiry, self-reflexive thinking and the application of judgment – of deciding that some things are valuable and some things are not.

Quotable Quotes

Practical reason: “the activity of examinign a pattern of practice, and criticizing it, analytically, reflectively, with an eye to its improvement. Practical reason is a matter of distinguishing excellence and error. It also implies mastery, the effort to do something as well as it can be done” (97).

“The aim is not to fit the individual to the disciplines but to organize the disciplines so as to develop the capabilities of the individual” (90) – how does this speak to Latour?

“If we are going to teach something greater, we are going to have to teach it through the disciplines” (88) – the disciplines are instruments toward a larger goal

Practical reason: “being acutely self-conscious about our ideas of the purpose of a human enterprise and about the practices we institute to achieve them.” (4)

Notable Notes

the core of Anderson’s curriculum: civilization (how did we come to think as we do?); science (a theoretical framework for scientific reasoning); the human situation (social sciences); the humanities (beauty, form and function, elegant design, subtle ends, cultivate judgment); and practical studies (applied fields – what do you do and why do you do it.) all meant to go deep, to find connections and meanings

practical reason as an organizing principle teaches judgment – it is complex, not simple relativism or inclusiveness

goal of American university education – traditionally open to all to cultivate practical reason necessary for democracy; the goal should be not an all-knowing individual but a particular kind of craftsman, worker who brings good practice to a field, who has a particular habit of mind

contemporary university: teaches only a certain kind of critical, detached, observant knowledge

tension between the public function of the university (to educate the public) and the private function (inquiry by academics)

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