Humanism at Reed

I try to ground my instruction at Reed within a humanistic philosophy. Part of the theory is that if I make an ass of myself then the students may find more space to err, and here is my lecture from last class.

What is learning you may ask? Philosopher Karl Popper taught that learning is the elimination of error. Babies flail their arms in an ergotic manner until they poke themselves in the eye. The resulting error signal programs the brain: do not poke self in eye. Likewise, learning to walk is really learning how not to fall down. I remember my own two kids learning to walk and they sure did fall down in many different ways. Popper went so far as to call induction a kind of mental illusion.

Sir Doktor Professor Popper was born in Austria in 19 oh-something into a highly cultured and educated family. From a science perspective, his most important work is on the demarcation between science and not-science, done while still a gym teacher in Wien. A theory or idea is scientific if it is falsifiable. Personally, I vacillate between thinking this profound and tautological.

Popper was Jewish and had to flee Austria before the N***s. He passed his fancy offer from Cambridge on to a less likely colleague and took a position in New Zealand. We will talk more about Popper’s work in the social sciences next week, so please read the first chapter of Open Society and its Enemies.

What is important for today’s class is the theory of learning. Learning in the context of our gathering today seems to involve an instructor and students. Perhaps this is a not an unfamiliar context in western education. Within this context and the context of Popper’s teachings, what then class are the respective responsibilities of instructor and student?

Anyone? Anyone?

Can we do hope to do better than poking ourselves in the eye?

Anyone? Anyone?

Very well then.

The responsibility of the instructor here is to shape the realm in which students can most fruitfully err. To set up a macro structure in which desired results are accessible via ergotic micro fluctuation.

The responsibility of the student is to gladly err within the macro structure.

Any question?

Student1: If we only miss two classes you have to pass us.

OK then, pair up and start with forehands. Try to get 3 or 4 simple ones before stepping back to loop. Get that nice follow-through there – all the way up. Couple of good ones! You can reduce your back swing for more control. Remember the cormorant drying itself on a rock. Yeah, that’s it. Don’t forget the giant fishbowl. Couple of good ones! Don’t forget your luggage when you loop. Nice shot! Good spin!

As we were putting the equipment away after class, a student approached me so kindly and asked, um, did you say that Popper was a gym teacher?

Well, Gymnasium, I said and we shared a laugh.

If that aint Humanism what is?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *