Un Début dans la Vie Humaine: Michael Oakeshott on education

Still on an educational theme, Paul’s chapter coincidently comes soon after I’d attended a conference on Maria Montessori. As a Montessori kid myself, I now see the many continuities going back to Boëthius’ Trivium and QuadriviumPaul Franco’s essay on Oakeshott’s philosophy of education, “Un Début dans la Vie Humaine,” fittingly concludes part 1 of this volume, for it is in connection with the theme of university education that Oakeshott first introduces the image of conversation. Franco acknowledges the enormous appeal of Oakeshott’s ideal of the university as a conversation between the various modes of understanding that make up our civilization, a conversation pursued for its own sake and not in the service of practical life or some social purpose. Nevertheless, he questions whether Oakeshott’s philosophy of education adequately addresses the problem of specialization and cultural fragmentation that exercised earlier theorists of education from Newman and Nietzsche to Arnold and Leavis. Franco contends that Oakeshott’s attempt to hive off education from any sort of moral or practical or societal effect ultimately leads to a formalism that deprives the university of its necessary role as a unifying cultural power.

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