How Medieval Astronomy Illustrates the Failure of Modern Education
Did you know astronomy was once a required field for all scholars to study? It was; alongside arithmetic, geometry and music, in what was called the quadrivium, which constituted the second half of a seven-headed liberal arts education, preceded by a trivium of grammar, logic and rhetoric. None of this information should be very earth-shattering; it’s the standard based somewhere in between Plato and Aristotle which thrived in Europe from Classical Antiquity up through the Italian Renaissance a full 2,000 years later. It should, however, provoke our indignation — not on those poor monks’ behalf, but on our own — for the nightmare it exposes our own education as. There are two things that come to mind immediately for me; first, that theirs was an education which was built atop cohesive (if incorrect) philosophical principles and which had as its aim to make (what it considered) moral and well-rounded people, and second, that this education fused observational and experimental sciences with abstract thinking according to a consistent tradition.
So? Some people might be inclined to respond by saying that our own (American) education system does the same thing; and if it does so ineffectively, that’s only for a lack of funding. But is that actually so? Perhaps you’ve heard of the Prussian model of “duty and discipline” education, in which education was nationalized, made compulsory, and instilled students with the sensibilities of good industrial workers; think time management, attention to detail, and excellence at repetitive standardized tasks. It served not to serve the interests of the people, but the state, and it did so effectively enough to be emulated by Horace Mann, the “father of American education”, in the 1840s after he had visited and studied Prussian schools personally.
And, after a laughable amount of time without meaningful national reforms other than those aimed in the direction of even further standardization (think Common Core), this is still the system in place pumping out American high school grads with zero skills or basic competencies today. So that American education does, in fact, serve a specific end, but that end does not involve the flourishing…