Wednesday, August 7, 2013

montaigne #2: on education

The next topic as you think about Montaigne is education. As a twelve-year veteran of the system (assuming you began in kindergarten) you undoubtedly have your own opinions about education. How has your education helped you think? What practices are effective and what needs to be modernized? What do you think of this article on homework, which ran on the front page of The New York Times?

Here are some thoughts from Montaigne (after the jump). Does his view on education surprise you? Does it seem like what you would expect from him? Do you agree/disagree with him? As you did last week, please feel free to compare these ideas with what you read (and this time, please respond in a comment to this post). Take notes on the ideas and the writing style, and remember that we will begin the year with a series of in-class essays on these topics, so if anyone has ideas or questions please don't be shy-- start sharing your ideas in comments now.

Excerpt from:

Bakewell, Sarah. (2010). How to Live: Or, A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.  New York: Other Press.


He [Montaigne] fulminates against the brutal methods of most schools.  “Away with violence and compulsion!”  If you enter a school in lesson time, he says, “you hear nothing but cries, both from tortured boys and from masters drunk with rage.”  All this achieves is to put children off learning for life.
Often, books need not be used at all.  One learns dancing by dancing; one learns to play the lute by playing the lute.  The same is true of thinking, and indeed of living.  Every experience can be a learning opportunity: “a page’s prank, a servant’s blunder, a remark at table.”  The child should learn to question everything: to “pass everything through a sieve and lodge nothing in his head on mere authority and trust.”  Traveling is useful; so is socializing, which teaches the child to be open to others and to adapt to anyone he finds around him.  Eccentricities should be ironed out early, because they make it difficult to get on with others.  “I have seen men flee from the smell of apples more than from harquebus fire, others take fright at a mouse, others throw up at the sight of cream, and others at the plumping of a feather bed.”  All this stands in the way of good relationships and of good living.  It can be avoided, for young human beings are malleable.
Or at least, they are malleable up to a point.  Montaigne soon changes tack.  Whatever you do, he says, you cannot really change inborn disposition.  You can guide it or train it, but not get rid of it.  In another essay he wrote, “There is no one who, if he listens to himself, does not discover in himself a pattern all his own, a ruling pattern, which struggles against education.”


  1. Everything Montaigne says is true to my opinion; a small, useless opinion to education; as it would seem. With this enforcement of societal expectations, schooling has become this mandatory program of steps and deadlines. Learning for the sake of learning is dead because intelligence is seen as being more valuable than knowledge.

    "Then a time came when Horace Mann, the great education reformer got worried that over stimulating the minds of children could lead to stress, insanity and mental breakdowns. So in the year 1840, the summer break was created."

    This concept of the intended summer break is now officially bullshit because of homework. The human mentality needs to be taken into consideration when you're systematically trying to program students into socially accepted adolescents. High levels of stress are successfully achieved with high levels of expectations; it's very much an unhealthy give-and-take process. You could say my bias comes from being a student of this century where homework over break has been added; but opinions are more valid if you have the experience.

    Personally, I learn by observation and self-acquired understanding of customs and corruption. Everything is much clearer when you don't remain innocent and naive. Moreover, something I would change, and it's a practice, would be required memorization. I don't find it necessary nor helpful to have the ability to recite (for example) Antony's speech word-for-word unless I was a thespian. I'm not an actress; I would much rather analyze such a speech, than be forced to drone out a shaky recollection of it in front of people who would much rather watch you fail for a higher self esteem.

  2. Montaigne is right about education and Brenna is right about the speeches and homework. I definitely believe that we learn right now to pass the class or make the grade, unless you truly love sitting through health or chemistry. More often than not, however, we find ourselves in classes we feel like we need to take rather than ones we actually want to take, which I believe college is supposed to be about... But we are so worried and stressed about grades that we forget to enjoy it... I understand a little stress is good but when I start coming home crying over homework, there is definitely a problem here.

  3. Now days student are just "doing" school meaning they are not really learning anything, but getting the work done. Education is very valuable to me. I have learned that even though it is more difficult to actually learn the material it is more beneficial because what you know cannot be taken away from you. I guess i could say that education is what i know because after all it is "my" education. For the past eleven years i have been taken to get "educated" at this place called school. This place called school has stressed me out all my life. The deadlines, and test large amounts of homework are just never ending. I think our educator must focus on teaching us how to think critically, how to see beyond our world, and how to work with others. It is only this way that we will become not only educated people, but successful people as well.