AC Grayling: Bad Education, Festival of Dangerous Ideas 2015

[ Music ]>>Hello, and welcome to the
“Festival of Dangerous Ideas”. I’m Julia Baird [phonetic]. And we have Professor
AC Grayling here to talk to us today; a great treat. And of course the housekeeping
festival, get your phones — we don’t want you to
turn them off anymore, just to put them on silent. If you’re tweeting,
hashtag, voting. We are going to have
some questions at the end of the session. And remember that it’s — we’re
filming everything as well. And there’s four microphones
that you can come to, but we will leave
that to the end of the question —
end of the session. [ Silence ] AC Grayling says,
“To read is to fly.” And he’s right. He’s a distinguished
philosopher, and I think has dedicated
his life, not just to the acquisition
of knowledge, but to examining how
it helps us live, and asking the right questions
about the way in which we live. He’s also called the
[inaudible] of atheism, which I think is
a fantastic title. And one of my favourites of
his books that he’s written — and of course he’s been
prolific, and he’s written and edited more than 30
books, is “The Good Book”, which is a secular bible. He is the master of New College
of the Humanities, and a fellow of St. Anne’s college at Oxford. His other books, “The Challenge
of Things,” “Liberty in the Age of Terror,” “The God
Argument,” [inaudible], and I can highly
recommend his new one. I lost some sleep
reading that last night; some excellent essays. His dangerous idea is about
asking to have a revolution in education, and
suggesting that a question that I have grappled with
a lot, and I’m sure many, many of you have, which is,
“What is education for?” And he will suggest that this
is entirely the wrong question to be asking. And I would ask you to
welcome Professor AC Grayling. [ Applause ]>>Thank you, Julia,
thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you. [ Silence ] Well, indeed, so my
team is education. And of course education
is a fast subject. There are so many, many different things
to say about it. Those of you who — in the audience who
are educators will know that there are so many theories
about how we should teach, and about how people learn. There are so many
different views about what the curriculum should
contain, so many views indeed, about who should be
offered education, who should be educated. At the moment, of course,
what we do is we take kids from about the age of five
or six and we put them through a process that
they emerge from at the age of maybe 18, or maybe 21 or 22, if they’ve gone to
higher education. And we hope that when they
come out at the other end, they will be what we hope that an education
will make people be. And the great question
that we have to address is whether
the answer that we give to the question what education
is for — and I do, by the way, Julia, think that is
the right question, “What is education for?” But the answer that
we give to that one is in my view now the wrong answer. And that’s what I want
to try and explain. And I want to say something about what I think the
right answer might be. But it has always been
the case and right the way through the history of our
civilisation, and indeed, of all civilizations,
really, that to equip people for a full part in the
lives of our societies, we have to provide them with
an opportunity to be equipped to understand the nature
of the world around them, to be able to manipulate the
tools that are so essential; in our world, of course, the
tools of literacy and new mercy. And there have also been people,
philosophers of education, educators themselves, who
have thought that the future of the world, its
peace, its health, very much depends
upon education. And there can’t be any question
but that they are right. In our contemporary world,
what really does matter is that more girls should get
an opportunity for education. It’s a very surprising and
dismaying statistic to realise that there are many
parts of the world, and the Middle East
is one of them, where literacy among
women is only about 50%. And if you think
of what that means, mothers who can’t read
bringing up children who can’t, therefore, participate in
the society around them as effectively as they might do. If you think of the impact
of illiteracy in new mercy, you’d see how serious it is. Many years ago, I
was doing some work at the Human Rights
Council in Geneva. And the UN had just published
a report on the effect of education on women in Africa. And the report said that just a
degree of elementary education, the ability to read and
write, add and subtract, actually transformed the
lives of many of these women. They had fewer children,
the children were healthier, the women could look
after their own money. They cease automatically
to be the possession of their father’s passed
on to be the possession of a husband or husbands. And the transformative
effect, therefore, of this enormously
empowering thing, which is to have those basic
skills of literacy and numeracy, was really astonishing. That gave me a desire really
to be involved in some way in enhancing the education
of women in Africa. And so I wanted to help to
set up a school for girls, but I was advised
by [inaudible], whose name you may very well
know, that it would be wrong to have a school just for girls,
that it had to be coeducational. Because otherwise,
the boys and men in that community would
be hostile to the girls who had been privileged
in that way. But she said to me,
“The key thing to ensure that girls get an
education in Africa, absolutely fundamental thing is that there must be
a loo with a door.” It’s got to be a lavatory with
a door, because if there isn’t, and then the girls reach
puberty, they can’t go to school, or their school
is very badly interrupted because they can’t look
after their personal hygiene. And it’s a little thing
like that often left field, a surprising thing that
one wouldn’t normally think about when thinking
about setting up a school that would make all
the difference. So there are lots and lots and
lots of different considerations that one has to adduce to
think about education across, a great range of questions
that education involves. But the importance of
education to society and to its future is,
as I say, undeniable. After the First World War, three of the most significant
philosophers of the 20th Century in the Western tradition
anyway, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein,
and Karl Popper, all of them got involved
in education. They all thought that in order
to avoid war in the future, in order to try to heal the
wounds that had been created by the First World War,
the next generations of people really needed to be given a proper
opportunity for an education. And Bertrand Russell
founded a school, Telegraph House [phonetic]
School, which became rather notorious because of his views
about things. He, as you know, was an atheist
and he believed in rationalism, wanted to bring children
up to be rational thinkers. And the story is told that a bishop visited the school
one day, rang the doorbell, and the door was open
by a naked child. And the Bishop said, “Good God.” And the child said,
“There isn’t one.” [Laughter] It just shows you how
successful Bertrand Russell was. Karl Popper was a teacher
of science, and the effect of being one was greater on
him than it was on his pupils, because he came to understand
something about the nature of the scientific reasoning
and the scientific process, which then, of course, to his
contribution to the philosophy of science a considerable one. Ludwig Wittgenstein,
as you might expect, was a somewhat less
successful teacher. He found that his patience
wore very thin very fast with his young charges. And he was hounded out of a
mountain village in Austria for having knocked
a child unconscious. He gave him such a
hard kip across the ear for not understanding something in the tractatus
logico-philosophicus, that he decided to
give up teaching, and therefore became a
fulltime philosopher instead. But the important point of
this anecdote is that all three of them really believed, even
in the end they individually and personally weren’t
all that successful, that education matters; that if
we really care about the future of the world, then we have
to care about education. So across that whole range of
questions, “How do you teach? How do people learn? What should the curriculum
contain? What should a school be like? What should a university
be like? What should the educational
day be like? Who should be educated? At what ages and why and how? Should we examine or not,”
all of those questions, all of them matter tremendously. And as a result, of course,
there is an extraordinary babble of voices, so many different
theories about these things, that those of you
who have studied at a teacher’s training college or got college educational
qualifications at university will know that
this chaos really of views about things is one
side of the story which is all too often
matched by the chaos that comes out of government policy on
what curriculums should be, and how people should be taught,
and how school should be funded. Here in Australia I’m
conscious of the fact that there was a controversy not
too long ago about the teaching of history, of Australian
history. And this just shows you
that there is a point, very tendentious difficult
and delicate point, about what curricula
should contain. So these questions are very
important and burning questions. And to talk about them properly
would take a very long time. So what I want to do
instead is to focus on a major philosophical
question about education, a question which is not
altogether easy to answer, unless you play intellectual
pickup sticks with it. My references to that game
where you hold a bunch of sticks and then you let them go. You’ve got to pick up
each individual stick without moving the others. So in order to try to
get a grip on what kind of answers should be
given to the question, “What is education for,”
one has to do that. One has to be a little
bit nuanced about it. Most people nowadays,
consciously or otherwise, and certainly in
governments around the world, if asked the question, “What
is education for” would almost certainly pick one of the
answers that has to be given as the dominating answer. And to put it at its
prudest — at its frankest, the answer that you’re
likely to get is this, “We have to educate people so that they can become
successful contributors to the economic life
of the country. They have to be able to
go out there and get a job and be successful, perhaps
even become entrepreneurs. But anyway, to be useful,
successful employees.” In short, they have to become
good useful foot soldiers in the economic war. And that is why it’s important
that people should be — why they should be literate. It’s important that they should
be part of a trained workforce, able to understand
things like, for example, the information technology,
able to master the techniques and technologies of
central importance to the success of the economy. Now, this is something which
is part of the overt curriculum of many educational systems. But much more importantly, it’s part of what’s sometimes
called the “hidden curriculum”, the assumption that lies
behind what’s happening. And the way the government
thinks about how it’s going to invest in education, it
thinks of it as an investment, and it wants a return
on that investment. It wants education to be
such that it’s productive from the point of view of GDP. It wants that investment to really boost the
growth of the economy. And this answer to the
question that education is for producing people who
are going to be useful to the economy is, to me,
not only the least important of the answers that
you could give, but is too often
understood in a way that makes it the wrong
answer to the question. Because they’re much important
answer, the better answer to the question, “What
is education for” is and should be, that
it is for life. It is for people to have
successful, achieving, flourishing, worthwhile personal
lives, only part of which, of course, is going to have
to relate to what they do in the way of careers or jobs. Of course it’s a wonderful
thing if you love your job, if you do a job that
you really enjoy so that like the Chinese poet who
once said, “I leaf from my bed in haste and swift as a
thirsty cat to my work,” well if you feel that way
every morning when you get up, that’s a wonderful thing, to
have a really wonderful job that makes you full of
satisfaction and a sense of movement toward
something really worthwhile. That’s great. A lot of jobs aren’t
quite like that. [Laughter] And therefore
we are reminded if we are in such jobs anyway, that there
is more to life than just work. And it’s those other aspects
of life, those other aspects of one’s self as an individual, and in particular one’s
relations to other individuals, and to the community around one
that should also be educated. That is to say, provided with
an opportunity to be enriched and enlarged so that one’s view
of the possibilities for life, one’s view about other
people, and one’s view about the world should have
very broad horizons, very fresh, clear prospects before it, so that life can be
really, really worth living. And that’s what an
education should be for. And there are all sorts of
things to say about that because although it’s
a very simple point, it’s a very significant
point in a way, because a great deal
follows from it. And one thing that
immediately follows from is that education is not just about
the period between five and 21. Education should be for life. We should all feel that
we are perpetual students, that we are always
learning, always open-mouthed and open-eyed in order to
drink in as much of the world, as much of the debate that
there is, the great conversation that humanity has of
itself about the world, so that one can be an
intelligent auditor of that conversation
and a contributor to it. And if an education can
make people like that, if it can help them to have
that enlarged and enriched view, and if it is something
which continues to enlarge and enrich throughout life,
then education will do the thing that it really ought
to be doing, making us grow constantly,
making us constantly alert. Now, how do you achieve
that kind of education? Well, that’s something
which I very, very firmly believe is
achieved not by focussing only on those aspects of
what we call education, which actually aren’t education, but which are something
equally important, but different, and
that is training. Because if you think about
that happens in a school, part of the process
is the process of training people
in certain skills. I mean, in the skills of
numeracy, for example, when I was at school, we learnt
our multiplication tables by rote. And in fact, that was
a wonderful thing. We mastered them in a
sing-song fashion very quickly and very early that freed up
a lot of brain capacity there for doing other things
afterwards. Now, if I have to multiply,
it just comes naturally. I don’t have to get out
a calculator or find that I have one or two
few fingers and toes to be able to do the sum. Orthography, spelling, knowing
how to correctly use the terms in our language,
that’s something else that one can be trained in. Being trained in the formula
and the equations in chemistry and in mathematics, that’s
also a matter of being drilled, of being shown how to do
something; given the technique. And training is not quite
the same thing as education. Think about the etymology
of the word “education”. It’s a very interesting
false etymology that it has. Now, you were all reading
Plato in the bath last night, so you will know that he
had this view about the fact that we simply cannot
from the very fragmentary and degenerate examples of
things in the world around us, ever come to any general
truths about reality. And therefore, we
must have known about reality before
we were born. And what happens is that
we have an immortal soul, and the immortal soul is in
direct contact with the eternal and immutable truths of things. And when we are born,
we forget it all. And so the process of
what we call education is in fact just a process of
being reminded of a bit of what we knew beforehand. This, as you know, was called
“the Doctrine of Anamnesis”, which means “the
doctrine of unforgetting”, of remembering little
bits of what we had known in a preexisting state. And so if you look at
the word “education”, you see that it has a Latin
etymology, and it comes from A or X, meaning “out of”, “ducare”
[phonetic], to mean “to lead”. We get our word “duco”, ducks
[phonetic] leader from that, to lead out, or to bring out. So the idea contains
in it the germs of this ancient profonic notion
that we are already equipped with all knowledge, and that we
must bring out that knowledge by reminding people of it. And you will have read
the dialogue by Plato, the manner in which
he demonstrates this with the slave boy
who knows no geometry, and he gets the slave boy to construct a geometrical
proof just by prompting him with questions. It happens [inaudible] that they
are rather leading questions, in fact, but at any
rate, it was meant to be an empirical
demonstration. But this idea of leading out
has remained central to the idea of education, not that we any
longer believe [inaudible] we are ourselves teenagers,
that we know everything, but that we can have drawn
out of us by the process of education our capacities,
our talents, our abilities. These are things that could
be fostered and coached. And this is a really important
aspect of the process. We train people in the basic
skills of numeracy and literacy. We drill people in knowledge
of those basic equations, and dates, and places,
and the capital cities, and the normal conquest. But then on the basis of
that training, we can begin to erect the structure
of education, which involves getting people
to think, and to be perceptive, and to start to reach
out towards that thing which is even more than
knowledge, even greater than knowledge, and that is
insight, or understanding, knowing what the
knowledge is worth, knowing how to connect different
bits of knowledge to other bits of knowledge, knowing
how to apply knowledge, knowing which bits of
knowledge tell us that there are yet more things to know. And that level, the level of
insight and understanding, is what emerges during the
process of a schooling, and which, of course,
is the great objective of a higher education
at university, which is to bring people to the
point of really making sense of what it is they
know and have learnt. Now, in our contemporary world,
this is a matter of the very, very, very first importance,
because now at the touch of a button and at
the speed of light, you can find almost
any information that you want on the Internet. So if you want data, if you
want facts, if you want dates, if you want equations,
you can get it just by pressing a few buttons. And therefore, the thing that we
need to use education for is not so much to download from
the net top of the teacher to the net tops of the students
in their classroom those dates, and facts, and equations. That was something that had to be done before information
was so readily available. Now what we have to teach people
to do is to be good evaluators of all that data, good critical
assessors of what they read and see on the Internet. Because this marvellous
thing, the Internet, is also a dangerous thing. It’s the biggest
lavatory wall in history. Everybody can scribble
their graffiti on it. Many, many aspects on the Internet are
false and misleading. I don’t know whether you know
this, but the Wikipedia pages, many of them are under attack
sometimes dozens of times a day by people who want
to change, or tweak, or falsify information on them. It’s said that the Wikipedia
page on Israel, for example, is attacked several
times a second, and their information
there has to be adjusted. So there’s a huge amount
of contentiousness. Now, to be a good user of the Internet is a
very important thing. And you can only be a good
user of it if you were good at evaluating; if you develop
a good critical reflective nose for knowing how to make sense
of what’s being offered you in the way of data
and of information. And if you wanted an
illustration of this, my favourite story about how
important it is to know how to handle the Internet
well relates to the French philosopher
Denard [phonetic] [inaudible]. I’m sure some of you have
heard this story before. Denard is, as I say, a
contemporary French philosopher who has flowing locks. Not necessary to
have flowing locks to be a philosopher,
but he has them. [Laughter] He’s very
distinctive for his dress style. He wears a plunging décolletage. In fact, I’d learnt
just recently that he doesn’t have any
buttons on his shirts; they’re opened down
his bellybutton. [Laughter] I asked him
one day, I said, “Denard, why do you wear your shirt
open to your bellybutton?” And he answered, and I
quote, “Because I’m hot.” Anyway, [laughter] Denard
recently published a book. And in this book he quoted
an unknown French thinker of the 18th Century
called “Botul”, B O T U L. I literally discover
when the book had been printed and it was one the shelves
that there was no such person. He had been made up by
some joker on the Internet. And this is something that
Denard would have noticed if he had further noticed that
Botul’s theory is botulism. Well, [laughter] Denard
was asked on television how on earth he could have quoted
something from the Internet without checking it out. And with a great Gaelic
flair, he said, “Oh, you know, what he says is good,
so I quote him.” Well, that might be one
way out of the problem, but it’s a very good
illustration of the fact that you have to be very good at spotting what might
not be quite the right bit of information, or
quite the right source, or quite the right validation
for a piece of information that you get hold of when
you look at the Internet. And so that skill, the
forensic critical skill of being really good at making
an assessment of something and evaluating something,
that is a matter of intellectual technique,
which is a very, very important component of
what it is to educate a mind, to make the mind prepared,
and equipped, and alert, and able not just
to get information, to know how to get
it, but how to use it, and how to make sense of it. So that has to be
a primary target of what we do in
education today. Now, there is no question at
all that the STEM subjects, as they are called, science,
and technology, and engineering, and mathematics, that
those subjects are of the first importance also. It’s hugely important
that people in our world should
have competence with information technology,
and should be numerate. And our world, our
economies, do need engineers, they do need scientists, and
physicists, and IT specialists. There’s no question
about that either. And what I’m just about
to say, therefore, doesn’t in one little
iota affect the fact that we should encourage people
to know about these things, to be literature scientifically. I mean, that doesn’t involve
having to be a scientist, but to be scientifically
literate is to have an intelligent grasp of
those things that are happening in cosmology and in particle
physics up at CERN in Geneva; in the biological sciences which
are having such a great impact on medicine, for example. In the neurosciences, which
is telling us how much more about ourselves and our
brains, and how they function. Once you have an intelligent
ability to grasp these things, understand them and be able
to follow debates about them, and if necessary when questions
of science policy arise, to be informed voters
about them. So I’m not in one way impugning
the importance of STEM subjects. But what has happened
in our world because of the answer
given to the question, “What is education for”, is that
we have devalued the humanities. We have made them seem less
important, because they appear to be less of a direct
contribution to the great economic battle,
the process of increasing growth and the bottom line on GDP. And by the humanities,
of course, I mean history and literature, philosophy,
the languages classics, those aspects of the
social sciences, psychology and sociology, and
law and economics, that bear on the same questions, which are really central
to the humanities. Because the central question
of the humanities is, “What sort of people
should we be? How should we live? What should we value? What’s important in life
and in our societies? How can be build societies
with social justice in them where it’s possible for
individuals to forge for themselves lives that
are really worth living, and where they can forge also
that thing which is central to the very best kind of life,
and that is good relationships?” Now, why do I say this? Why are the humanities
important? Well, let me just give
you the quick answer on the three central
humanities, literature, and history, and philosophy. Think of it this way. Imagine a society that doesn’t
care about these things at all. So the humanities are not taught in the school or
the universities. There are no books in the
bookshops or libraries about them, no programmes
and television about them. What would that society be like? If it knew nothing at all about
history, it would know nothing about how it came
to be as it is now. Wouldn’t know about
the evolution of the institutions
that it lives by. Would know nothing about the
experience of our forbearers in the human story,
and why achieved, and what they failed at, and
why if indeed they did so. It’s often been said that those who know no history have
very little understanding of the present. And that’s true. And also, of course, the
future doesn’t exist. We create it moment by moment. And the only resource that
we have for trying to work out the best course into
that future is by looking at our past experience. I say all this, by the way, leaving aside the other
great fact which is that history is utterly
fascinating. To know something about
it, to read history, to have an understanding of it
is absorbing and fascinating. It’s all the stories
about human experience. But we can learn an
enormous amount from them. And so a society that didn’t
even care about history, that was ignorant about it, would be in a very impoverished
and challenged state. So that’s why our educational
systems should want people to be historically sensitive,
historically literate, to have a sense of context. Now, I mentioned that
this society doesn’t care about literature
either; doesn’t care about the stories we told one
another about what it is to fall in love, or to experience grief,
or to have great ambitions, and to strive to realise them. If you think about it, literature is a very highly
organised form of gossip. And we all love gossip. We all want to know about what
other are people are doing, and why, and what they felt, and what happens
behind closed doors. And this is the marvellous
thing about literature. However energetic
you are yourself, you can only lived your own
life and have direct experience of the lives of those
close to you. But literature provides open
windows into many, many, many different kinds of
lives and experiences. It enables us to see
across the great panoply of human experience
and human nature. If we are reflective
and sensitive readers, it can teach us to be so much
more sympathetic and generous in our understanding
of other people. Can help us to be tolerant. Can help us to get some insight
into ways of life and experience that we might never ever
ourselves encounter directly. So literature is an
extraordinary resource. It’s an extraordinary
opportunity, really to get into the minutiae and the
details, into the blood and sweat of human reality, and extending thereby
our view of those things. So the society that they
didn’t care about the future, about these stories, about
the narratives that we are all so hungry for all the time, is a
society which had blinded itself to an immense resource
of possibility for understanding
ourselves and other people. And finally, we imagine
this society doesn’t care about philosophy. So it never asks itself
questions about the nature of knowledge, of reasoning,
of right reasoning, of the good of lives
worth living, of value. It never questions the
assumptions on which it rests. And one of the great
things about philosophy is that it asks us to
challenge assumptions. It asks us to dig down and
unearth the assumptions on the basis of which
we act and believe. I’ll give you an
example of this. I’m an Oxford person, myself. I was a student there and I
taught there for many years. And you’ve all heard of Oxford. Some of you may have heard
of that other place on the — [laughter] in the damp
meadows eastern England, which I think is still
called “Cambridge”. Now, one thing that Oxford
people notice about Cambridge is that Cambridge people
think that what happens in Cambridge applies
to the entire universe. A chief example of this is Isaac
Newton, you know, who’s sitting in one of those damp
meadows one day when an apple fell on his head. It made him look up at the
sky, and he saw the moon, and he asked himself
the question, “Why doesn’t the moon
fall to the earth?” And thereby began the long
curly tale which eventuated in the inverse square
law of gravitation, which like a good Cambridge man, he applied to the
entire universe. And he started just thinking
of gravity, I mean, you know, there’s a lot of
gravity in Cambridge. But why did gravity
just apply to Cambridge. [Laughter] He applied it
to the entire universe. So now, you might
want to ask him if you had the opportunity
say, “Isaac, why did you generalise
the law of gravity to the entire universe?” What would he answer? Well, he would say, “Well, it’s because the universe
is the same everywhere.” He used this very
poetic eternal phrase, “The universe is homogenous
throughout its parts.” So you say to him, “But
Isaac, why do you think that,” knowing as you know
now, of course — because the other
thing you were reading in the bath last night was
quantum physics and cosmology and said, “You know that the
laws of physics don’t apply across the whole universe,
on the event horizon of a black hole or at any
singularity like The Big Bang. The laws break down.” So you know Newton is wrong. So you say to him, “But
why do you assume that? Why did you assume the universe
is the same everywhere?” But he would say, as he
does say in the [inaudible], “The universe is
the same everywhere because it was created by God, and God is an economical
workman,” [laughter] meaning that God would just make the
universe the same everywhere, even though having eternity
you might expect a bit of variety, you know. [Laughter] Well, there are
three great assumptions, at least three great assumptions
lying behind what Newton says. First, that there is a God. Secondly, that She
created the universe. [Laughter] And thirdly, that
She’s an economical work person. By the way, people do
ask me why I say, “She”. I say, “It’s just
to keep you awake.” Well, so then there are
three great assumptions. And the really significant
thing about them — because, of course,
they’re independently debatable assumptions. But the really interesting
point is that they are nonphysical
assumptions, nonscientific. They’re theological assumptions. And yet they lie in the
very foundation stones of classical Newtonian physics. And that’s a surprise. And that surprise is
repeated again, and again, and again when you look at the
kinds of beliefs, supports, the bases, the foundations
of things that we think and do in our society. So to dig up those assumptions
is of the first importance. And that’s why philosophy
matters. So this society we’re imagining,
which never does that, gives us the narrowness,
the lack of depth, the lack of perspective
that results from not knowing what
the humanities offer us. And this is why for lives that
are good, for lives that are — I mean good in the sense of
fulfilling and worthwhile, not necessarily good in the
narrow moralistic sense. But lives that are really good
to live, one needs to have that horizon or view that
the humanities offer. And it is no surprise
to me at all that one of the great institutions for
the study of STEM subjects, Imperial College at
London, has introduced for its students what
they call a co-curriculum, which is a strand of humanities
studies alongside their technical studies, in order to
provide that widening of view. Now, many things that the
humanities address are things that don’t have easy or
black or white answers. And sometimes, of course, they
don’t have answers at all. That’s the characteristic
sometimes [inaudible]. But then you know what the
French poet Paul Valery said about this matter. He said, “[Speaks French],”
“A difficulty is a light.” “[Speaks French],” “An insurmountable
difficulty is the sun.” So when you tackle
ideas that are hard, when you tackle questions that
are difficult, when you look at the complexity and
ambiguity of human experience that the humanities address,
you learn so much about others, and about oneself, and
about the world around us. And that is what the
humanities offer. So the answer to the question,
“What is education for”, has to be, must be, it is
for life, it is for living, it is to provide us with an
opportunity to think and to see, to become critical
and reflective, to have that broader
vision which enables us to imagine more, and to
see into other lives, and to be more tolerant and
embracing, to be more generous in our understanding of things,
but also ourselves to live with the kind of
imaginative courage that a human life
should be premised on. Now, I love to tell this, and I close on this
little anecdote now. And I’m sure you’re all
very familiar with this. But when you read
your Herodotus, probably this being a Sydney
audience in the original Greek, you will remember [laughter]
that he tells a story of Solon, the great lawgiver of Athens who
visited King Croesus of Lydia, the richest man by
far, the richest person by far of ancient times. He loved to have his visitors
taken to the treasury there to see a great panoply
of wealth that he had. And then he would
ask his visitors, “Who in your opinion is the
happiest person in the world?” And the visitors would say,
“Well, you because you’re so rich and you’re a king.” But Solon said, “Ah,
I knew somebody back in the suburbs in Athens there.” Croesus was a bit cross. “What, you choose a
commoner over me?” The servant said, “Yes.” He goes, “I don’t know
whether you’re happy.” By the way, in those old days, happiness meant something
different from today. Happiness in those days meant
something really, you know, active, well-doing
and well-being, what Aristotle called
“eudaimonia”. Nowadays, of course,
if we put enough Prozac in the public water supply — [laughter] we have a different
conception of happiness. So that’s what Solon meant. So I don’t know whether
you’re happy, but I do know you
should think about it. You should educate yourself
into a consciousness of how important it
is to think about it. And you know why; because
of the brevity of life; that the human life is less
than a thousand months long, 300 of them we’re asleep,
not the 300 months we’re in the supermarket,
or waiting for a bus. So you have 300 months to
live with all the vividness and passion that a human
life should be full of. Now, that sounds rather
dispiriting especially when you start doing a bit of
mental arithmetic and thinking, “Heck, I’ve used a few of
those months up already.” [Laughter] But here’s the
thing, if you are a reflective, attentive consumer
of the richest that the humanities offer us,
if you’ve had the opportunity to read the future, to know
something of history, to think, and discuss, and
debate philosophically, then you’d turn those 300
months into 3,000 months, into 300 years, because
time is not time, it’s life, it’s experience. And the more rich that your
experience, and the more rich that you live, the longer you
live, the freer your life is. It’s so easy to prove this. I like to say this to
audiences in England. It’s a little more difficult
for audiences in Sydney, but if you go to Paris for the
weekend while you’re there, [laughter] it feels as
if you’re there forever. It’s wonderful. When you get home
again afterwards, it feels as if it’s
gone like a flash. What does this tell you? It tells you that time is very,
very elastic around experience. And so if your life is
full of rich experience, it is hugely expanded in time. And where do you get that
rich experience from? You get it from knowing stuff,
from insights, from having read, and thought, and listened,
and heard, and discussed. That’s what makes you
live all those centuries when you’re living
your 300 months. And by the way, guys, 300 months
is 25 years; it’s not too bad. [Laughter] Thank you very much. [ Applause ] Thank you. [ Applause ]>>That was so wonderful. Can you just say again in
French so I can just learn how to say it and drop it
into conversation myself, “The insurmountable
difficulty is the sun”?>>”An insurmountable
difficulty is the sun,” yes, because it’s so illuminating. It’s bearing so much
light on the whole area around that problem, see if you
don’t come up with an answer.>>Can you say it for
me again in French?>>In French? [Laughter] So he said,
“[Speaks in French].”>>Oh, it’s so good. Okay. [Laughter] While we’re
preparing for questions — we will open the questions,
I’ll just kick off quickly. So much to think about there. I have been reading
your book called — with a very narrow title,
“The Challenge of Things”. And in it you talk about
teaching, and you say in short, you know, a good
teacher inspires. What is it that’s the most
important characteristics, do you think, of a good teacher?>>Well, I think
that’s it, actually, it’s the making people
want to learn. So if you can make your
students, your pupils, hungry to know more, they
really want to get that, they want to take it further, then that’s the inspirational
bit. That’s the thing that is, in the
end, the great outcome of it.>>Right.>>Because as I often say
to people, and I really, really believe this, I think
teachers are among the most important people on the
planet, because they can make — [ Applause ] They can create wonderful lives, really create wonderful
possibilities in lives for people that they
can switch them on.>>Yes.>>And you can see this if
you think of a bad teacher, somebody who turns
somebody off a subject which they might have
really contributed to or they might have, you
know, gotten so much out of if they’d enjoyed it. And that’s a tragedy to lose
that kind of possibility. But a good teacher — and,
you know, one of the tragedies of our world now is this,
that teachers were always, until relatively
recently anyway, you know, part of this sort of natural
aristocracy of our world. If you think about an English
village in the 19th Century, the vicar, and the doctor, and the teacher would be the
top people in the village of respected and admired,
and really necessary to the life of the community. Now, alas, we have a world where everything is
measured by how much you own. The teaching profession,
like the nursing profession, like so many other
of the really, really important professions,
are not considered in the way that your top football
players, or CEOs of companies or something are considered. Therefore, are those, you
know, the kinds of jobs that are desirable
because they have a lot of money attached to them. And the idea of a vocation
where doing something which is intrinsically
valuable, it’s really — you know, it’s instinct
with value as teaching is now is less
well-regarded than it was. And that’s a tragedy.>>I could not agree more. [ Applause ] Okay. [ Applause ] So we’ll open it
up for questions. We have one, two,
three, and four. And I’ll start with
number three.>>Hi. I’m studying
to be a teacher.>>Good for you.>>And I don’t care about the
money; it’s a calling for me.>>Okay.>>But one thing I
have noticed is a lot of students studying
alongside me have come straight from school into university. And the attitude is
that it’s about marks, and it’s about passing
a subject. And there’s no sense that
we’re doing something that’s incredibly important, and
that we owe it our students who will be using
this information. I was wondering if you had
any comments on the model that you just go straight
from school to university, to back to school
to be a teacher, and whether there is a
deficiency in that model; because it’s something
I’m wondering about.>>Well, there are two
separate points in what you say. I mean, I do think that there
are people who having had such a good experience as pupils
in education might be so turned onto the whole idea of education
and wanting to give back that they should go straight
from school into being teachers. I mean, I think that the
burden of your point, which is that perhaps having
some experience outside, and being able to bring
more into the classroom when you get there eventually
could be a good thing too. But it does depend
on individuals. So I think it would be that
the answer is for some, great to go straight from one
back into education, for others, maybe a few gap years
doing something else, yes. But tucked away in your
question was this other thought that teaching for exams,
teaching to a curriculum, you know, if I had my way, I
would abolish exams altogether because I think [applause]
that amount of time wasted on getting people ready
for exams, you know, which could be used to
educate them, to encourage them for people to read and think. Well, I mean, probably in the
tens of thousands of years of education are
wasted doing that. And here I think
you’re a bit better off than we are in the UK. But in the UK, in England,
or Wales anyway, kids do GCSE at 16, AS 60 AS levels
at 17, A levels at 18, first year exams at 19 years. For five or six years,
they’re doing nothing but preparing for exams. And that is not education.>>Hmm.>>Yes.>>Thank you.>>Okay. [ Applause ] Number four; yes.>>Students in the public
education system aren’t exposed to Darwin’s Theory of
Evolution by Natural Selection until year eight;
yet they are exposed to religious explanations
to the origin of man since kindergarten. I was just wondering
if you could reflect on that and — [laughter] [ Applause and Background
Talking ]>>Well, how much
time do we have? [Laughter] I mean, if we had
concentrated on the title of my talk “Bad Education”, one
of the things that I would have to say is that religious
education, and especially the
asymmetry in the case that you’ve just
eloquently described, this is a very, very
important point. Now, I’ve said in other context that we should stop
religious education. Of course, it’s important
that at school and university people
should know about the religious
traditions in our world. They have, after all, been
a little bit too influential in history, so we need
to know about them. But they should be
put into the context of the history of
ideas in general. So it should start
from when we understand that the very earliest views of
our universe, the development of the mythologies,
all the many, many different religious
traditions there are, the philosophical traditions,
then the rise of science and our better understanding
of the world. And this would put
it into context. But I agree with you. I mean, there is a very, very
significant skewing of the point that if you were taught at the
age of five about Adam and Eve, and you only get to Charles in
year eight, that is a bad thing. [ Applause ]>>All right; and we’ve only
got seven minutes left now. So if we just keep
the questions short, but hopefully we can
fit in a couple more. Number one.>>Mr. Grayling, thank you
very much for your speech. And sort of bearing on that
previous question actually associated with the ethics into
which co-curates this event, one of the major achievements
of the Ethics Centre is to create ethics classes in the New South Wales
primary schools from K-6. Now, I think it’s the only
place there on the planet that actually enables
that to happen. [ Applause ] So feel free to react
to that when you — in your point about
giving people life skills. We believe that’s a
pretty critical subject that kids now get in New South
Wales from K through to six, so they have at least
access to it. My question’s slightly
different. You’ve talked a lot about
the content of education. I have a question about the
process, and in particular, intensive cognitive training. You may have heard of techniques
like the Arrowsmith technique, and people who focus
not so much on content, but just training the brain,
picking up on the ideas of brain plasticity, and just
improving the engine of thinking as part of the education system.>>Yes, thank you. By the way, I’m a tremendous
admirer of the Ethical Centre. and what it does
in New South Wales. I think that’s completely
wonderful. And by the way, there’s an
important point associated with that, which is that
very often people conflate or confuse the idea of
ethics and morality. Now, of course, moral outlooks, moral views can be
a part of ethics. Although, you’ll notice that
the great ethical debate in our civilisation is one
about the nature of the good, and of what really does matter. And it’s the attempt to
answer the Socratic question of what sort of people
we should be; whereas the moral pendulum
goes backwards and forwards, and some periods of history
are more puritanical, and some are more libertine. Perhaps you look
across the landscape for the last 400 years, and you
see how far the pendulum swings in both directions. You can see from the hairstyle
that I was around in the ’60s when the pendulum was in
about the right place. [Laughter] Now it’s heading
towards a much more puritanical view of things, which
worries me. So it’s not about morals, but
it is about reflection on life, and how to live it, and
what sort of person to be, and how we should
relate to others. And I hugely admire
what’s happening here in New South Wales that
you guys are doing. So I’m all for that. On the business cognitive
training, well in fact in what I was saying in my talk
there about critical thinking and the ability to
reflect, having a good nose for noticing something,
being very observant and attentive, being alert. I mean, that’s one thing —
there’s one way of putting this. And I think about this,
you know, about my students at my college, that my
great ambition for them is to have turned all the
lights on for them. I sometimes put it by saying,
what I really want to do is to pimp their ride, you
know, so when they come out at the other end,
[laughter] they’re so switched on that they notice
things, and they’re very, very good at scrutinising them, and challenging them
with good questions. And that ability to be
critically reflective, in our world today, is more
important than it ever has been.>>Okay. [ Applause ] All right; and the
last one, number two. Thanks.>>Thank you, Professor
Grayling, for your presentation. You touched a little bit on classical languages
and the classics. I was wondering if you
could reflect a little bit on their place in
the curriculum. I think they’re included as
a little bit underemphasized, as you said, as a part
of the humanities. And if you could
reflect on that; where they should be
reemphasized in the curriculums.>>Well, do you know, up
until relatively recently, well let’s say, 75
or 80 years ago, people who were educated
largely in the classics at the ancient universities in
England at Oxford and Cambridge, were sent out to run an empire, Burma and India and
what have you. And you might think
to yourself, “Well, how the heck did that work? I mean, how can, you
know, a bit of Latin and Greek help you to do that?” Well, when you look into
a classics curriculum, see what you’re reading,
you’re reading history, you’re reading philosophy,
you’re reading literature, you’re reading about great
generals, about statesmen, about the history
of the Roman Empire. A study in the classics
is almost a complete study of almost everything that
you need to know to go out and there and run an empire. And it is so rich and full,
has so, so much insight. And so much of what we are
today extends from that. I mean, you know,
occasionally people talk about Western civilisation
being a Christian civilisation. Well, actually, when Christianity became the
dominant outlook of Europe in about the 4th Century, that’s was nearly a thousand
years after Socrates. And for most of what matters
to us in our intellectual life, in our institutions, in our
thinking, has come to us from classical, and
Hellenic, and Roman antiquity. And the real knowledge of those
things went so deep in our view of ourselves today that in my
humble opinion, the teaching of Latin and ancient
Greek should be compulsory to the age of 55. [Laughter] [ Applause ]>>Oh. If we’re extremely quick,
number three, we can fit one in.>>Going on the first question, what age should we
start teaching children about all religions,
so that when they’re in their very early years they
can understand there are other religions and other beliefs?>>Yes; I’m very much
with you on that one. And as I said a moment ago about
teaching the history of ideas in general of which
religions would be one strand, and would be put into the
context of the overall history of ideas — and that should be
something that comes a bit later when the students
are better equipped with a more general knowledge
of history and geography, and also able to appreciate
some of the varieties and nuances there
are in competing ways in thinking about the world. So it really is something
for the more mature mind. But it’s of the first importance
that these different traditions of thought should
be in the context of other traditions of thought. What we tend to do in
our schools is we fill it out one strand in the history
of ideas, that’s the history of religion, or religious
studies, and we thereby privilege
them and make them seem to our students to be more
important than the others. And they most certainly aren’t. [ Applause ]>>Anthony, it’s been a
great pleasure and an honour to have you here today. You know, you’ve
been to Sydney before and you know us very well. We do read Herodotus in the
original Greek, most of us. [Laughter] We do read
Plato in the bath. And if we finish, now of course,
we have the challenge of things to read in the bath,
because with that promise of pimping our rides,
how can we resist? Professor Grayling
will be signing books in the foyer outside. So can we know just thank
him for speaking to us today?>>Thank you very much. Thank you, Julia,
thank you so much. [ Applause ] [ Applause and Music ] [ Silence ]

31 thoughts on “AC Grayling: Bad Education, Festival of Dangerous Ideas 2015”

  1. Marxists already control education and academia. Try having a conservative viewpoint on a university campus. This "revolution" is just for further thought control of students and faculty.

  2. Before the internet there was misinformation….Thanksgiving …Columbus Day….kids are taught things not only in media but else where world wide misconceptions. There are schools in the bible belt in the US a first world country ….loch Ness monster is real without question among other things not realistic.

    To question, critical thought, and media literacy among children play….the testing drowns it out. The teacher is pressured and cannot really teach secular ideas…they can barely teach politics and religion history and literature without some parents going crazy about kids being allowed freethinkers.
    Science is given manipulation by cults homeschooling and trying to take over public schools to the point of making up misinformation pretending it is fact.


  3. 7:44 Bertrand Russel's lover, & fellow linguologico philosopher, Wittgenstein knocks a kid out for misunderstanding Tractatus. lololol

  4. "I sometimes think of my students what I really want to do is to pimp their ride" – now that's my kind of philosopher, intelligent and witty 🙂

  5. Oh for fuck's sake!!!! What a total fucking prick! ACG, ask a real question. What is education for? What is education? What shall we… all these questions are fucking bullshit now. The state (democratic authority) owns and controls education. Any real question on education has to ask about the nature and scope of other people's authority over my choices for my child/young person and other people's authority over children and yp's choices.
    When that is done, we may ask subsidiary questions. Sad, but essentially true and becoming ever more true as the state jackboots its way into all aspects of spreading culture and knowledge to future generations.
    ACG acts like a stupid cunt! He does not even begin to start asking the real questions. Anyone impressed with this pseudo-academic, shallow and off-the-peg shit is also a stupid cunt. ACG is not stupid (nauseating yes) and he does not have to talk such bollocks. If you are impressed by this, then you are a stupid cunt too.

  6. If ACG’s groupies have stopped – I think it’s time for the prosecution to briefly sum up:
    ACG assumes he and others who agree with him have the right to impose on others. They believe they have superior knowledge based on expert status. They believe they know better than all the accumulated wisdom of all people, groups and institutions.
    They use the power they have to impose systems of control on others and claim superior knowledge in all cases, places, times and circumstances. ACG is, by the way, an atheist. Sounds like he’s found a new god to worship.
    These experts know what’s best for your son. They know him better than you do. This is why he is now subject to modular exams. Such ‘examinations’ favour girls. Linear exams favour boys, who have more obvious autistic traits than girls and so outperform girls when it comes to recalling streams of information.
    For ACG and others, education isn’t education. Actually, education is fairness – because things are not the things we think they are. We ignorant masses are too stupid to know such sophisticated truths. Girls need a hand up, but we also need a state controlled system which imposes fairness on all from on high.
    Education can, apparently, also be justice or a right or any bloody thing else we want it to be. This is how they justify this extraordinary pantomime.
    The stupidity and arrogance of ACG and his partners in crime, knows no bounds. For a century such people have shoehorned Rousseau’s deluded fables with Dewey’s screwy ideas. They make no sense – equally stupid and opposite doctrines. However, they are successfully combined and we just have to accept that. Far from being a handicap, it has proved to be a terrific strength. If one crackpot idea fails, use its opposite. Horses for proverbials. If you want to know where stupid and vicious doctrines like feminism and postmodernism came from, look to ACG and the slime that came before him.
    What matters is truth and justice. Results will take care of themselves.
    There’s more, but here I rest my case.

  7. Oxford Breeds Super donkeys carrying holy Books. None of them know what Yeshua or Yeshiva stands for? Not for saviour but …..

  8. There are only 2 fools remaining on this planet and this AC Grayling is one of them.
    Never trust anyone who seeks to convince others there's not a creator according to their personal philosophy and the other is not to trust anyone who claims the contrary according to their personal philosophical or religious insistence likewise.
    Knowledge is powered by a firm awareness only of truth. -silly debate obviously!

  9. An Atheist talking about God is like a hard line feminist talking about marriage. People just love to babble about things they know nothing about.

  10. It is not an assumption, that Newton's theory of gravitation applies to the whole universe (as Newton could observe it), because it made correct predictions about the movements of planets and comets (except the deviations of Mercury which were explained by Einstein). And Neptun was discovered by application of Newtonian gravitation to deviations of the path of planets under the assumption, that Newtonian gravitation worked in the whole universe known at that time. I think he was aware that his assumption that something is universal is a hypothesis that holds as long as it is falsified, though he didn't know Popper. The hypothesis of the of a paradigm has nothing to do with religion. But another interesting thing about Newton is, that he thought, that the fact that he could not explain why the planets are moving almost in a plain, was evidence for God.

  11. Grayling is a dope! If everything in our universe is the result of godless evolution, then all ideas about God and religion are the result of that evolution; and if you cannot trust what that evolution tells you about God then you cannot trust what it tells you about anything! In Graylings universe there is no truth, there is no knowing, no logic, no reason….I reject his anti-intellectual claptrap.

  12. Here is a dangerous idea: go to the top of a multi-storey car park and then roller skate round the edges …

    Dangerous or what!

  13. It's ironic to think that some still see the present course of human events as indicating we humans have a future. Only a hopeless optimist would do so. Endless war; toxic pollution; rising corporate fascism; government corruption; an antiquated voting system; joblessness; rampant racism; worldwide austerity….and on and on. In forty years the future can only be as black as spent oil if our present insane course continues.

  14. AC Grayling is big on tall tales, and weak on educating himself on the real history of the anecdotes he so happily regurgutates

  15. Belief in the deity of Jesus Christ, His Gospel and the historisty of His resurrection seems to be the dangerous ideas since every idiot in the world seems aggressively opposed to these ideas.

  16. Actually, biblical Intelligent Design and biblical archaeological fact is censored out of public education, and Darwinist religious myth enjoys a monopoly in that forum.

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