Last of the Westland Whigs

In the late 17th century, the 'Westland Whigs' were the radical descendants of earlier Covenanters who had defied the absolutist rule of Stuart kings in south west Scotland.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Enlightened decision?

This letter was published in the Herald 28th Feb 2007. Response? None. I wonder why...

David Hume, Dugald Stewart, Hugh Blair, William Robertson, James Hutton, Francis Hutcheson, Thomas Reid and Adam Smith are the names of but a few of those Scots who produced works of genius in chemistry, geology, engineering, economics, sociology, poetry and painting in the late 18th century. The impact of this ‘creative surge’ , which we now call the Scottish Enlightenment, was felt far beyond Scotland. The Scottish Enlightenment helped lay the foundations of the modern world. In turn, this enlightenment imparted a lustre to Scottish education which, though dimmed, has not yet been tarnished beyond repair.
Of the enlightened , Francis Hutcheson , Thomas Reid and Adam Smith all held the chair of moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow. Thus they contributed their ’genius’ to the still world-wide reputation of that University. However, I fear that this association between the University of Glasgow and the Scottish Enlightenment has been fatally compromised.
In September this year, the University of Glasgow in partnership with Kaplan International Colleges, will begin admitting foreign students to the Glasgow International College. The aim is to offer “courses designed to prepare international students for entry to the University’s undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes “. A worthy aim? Perhaps. But what would Francis Hutcheson, Thomas Reid or Adam Smith make of this from Kaplan International’s website on ‘test preparation’?
"With nearly 70 years of experience, Kaplan is the world leader in test prep and has helped more than 3 million students prepare to take the tests necessary to achieve their education and career goals. Kaplan offers complete preparation for entrance exams for secondary school, college, graduate school as well as English language and professional licensing exams."
I suggest they would be sceptical. Test preparation is not education. To educate is to 'bring-out ' ( from Latin educere = ex- "out" + ducere "to lead" ) existing qualities within the student. Test preparation is the force-feeding of students with the already known 'correct answers' to the test questions. As such, ‘test prep’ depends upon the passive acceptance by the student of the ‘word of authority’. This runs directly counter to the enlightened attitude to ’the word of authority’ described by Alexander Broadie in his recent book ’ The Scottish Enlightenment‘:
“The enlightened person accepts the word of authority not as something to which he [she] has to say ‘yes, but as something which it is appropriate to subject to critical analysis. The question for the enlightened person therefore is whether the word of authority can stand up to cross-examination before the tribunal of reason. If it can then it is accepted because it is sanctioned not by authority but by reason. If on the other hand it cannot withstand the cross-examination then it has to be discarded, however exalted the source. The Enlightenment was an age of criticism in the sense of ‘critical analysis’ or ‘critical reflection’. It was through critical reflection that people were to gain their freedom -I do not say ‘secure’ it, because our freedom is never secure. Any position gained from the dead hand of authority has to be defended. Without an effective holding operation the position is lost. “
The doors of Glasgow University’s new International College are to open in September. At the same time, the doors of their Crichton Campus in Dumfries will begin closing. Students at the University’s Crichton Campus “follow a core programme of courses designed to promote active citizenship, creative and critical thinking”. Glasgow University, it would seem, has chosen the immediate economic benefits of the ‘test prep’ path to profit over the more challenging educational path of the Scottish Enlightenment .
Alistair Livingston


Post a Comment

<< Home