Sunday, September 11, 2005

Aquinas on Education

Aquinas on Education

This is from a book called "St Thomas and Education":

"... Thomas demonstrates metaphysically that learning is a process of growth brought about primarilly by the learner's own activity. This provides firm support for pedagogies designed to make students mainly responsible for their own learning so that they may more surely develop into persons capable of independent intellectual inquiry and evolution. The teacher who hopes to expedite this process is advised by Aquinas, who anticipates Rousseau, to follow nature -- that is, the methods men use when they learn on their own."

"...we have already noted that disciplina is only used by Thomas for one sort of intellectual learning. His theory of habitus, however, which is the context for his reflections on this learning product, is applicable to many type of learning; the strictly scientific; the development of skills in the arts or growth in character. Habitus is the technical Latin term for Aristotle's hexis and is best rendered, as a recent translator points out, by "disposition.

"What is striking about these reflections is the modest importance Thomas attached to the teacher's work. There are, he says, two ways of learning. The better is the way of independent investigation, which he calls "discovery" (inventio). ... we all employ this method... when we acquire some store of knowledge or some skill through our own experience and effort. This procedure not only manifests greater intellectual power in the learner, Thomas thought, but is also more perfect. For we learn in this case through an immediate contact with the realities in question, whereas, when we are taught, the teacher's signs (generally verbal ones) intervene and at best point us toward those realities. It is a rare talent, nonetheless, that can wholly dispense with a teacher's help and to do so is, in any case, time consuming. So that the chief value of this second way of learning, that is to say, learning-through-teaching (disciplina) is one of economy. Most men would have neither the leisure nor the courage to learn all they need to know if teachers did not ease and accelerate the process for them.

"Thomas' basic recommendation for teachers actually underlines the primacy of that personal way of discovery. This is based on a more general principle which holds that whenever an effect can be produced either by nature or by art, the method of art should be the same as that of nature. SInce teching is an art, we must expect to find it most effective when its procedures are most like those of independent search. Far from urging a sharp dichotomy between learning-by-discovery and learning-by-instruction, Thomas suggested that wise teaching narrows the difference between them. A good teacher contrives for his students an experience as much like that of learning-by-discovery as possible."

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