Education Quote of the Day

15 July 2007 at 8:20 pm 3 comments

| Peter Klein |

F. A. Hayek, writing in The Counter-Revolution of Science (pp. 195-96 of the Liberty Fund edition) on one consequence of the French Revolution:

The Revolution had swept away the old system of colleges and universities, which system was based largely on classical education, and replaced them in 1795 with the new écoles centrales, which became the sole centers of secondary education. In conformity with the ruling spirit and by an overviolent reaction against the older schools, the teaching in the new institutions was for some years confined almost exclusively to the scientific subjects. Not only the ancient languages were reduced to a minimum and in practice almost entirely neglected, even the instruction in literature, grammar, and history was very inferior, and moral and religious instruction, of course, completely absent. . . .

Thus, a whole generation grew up to whom that great storehouse of social wisdom, the only form indeed in which an understanding of the social processes achieved by the greatest minds is transmitted, the great literature of all ages, was a closed book. For the first time in history that new type appeared which as the the product of the German Reaschule and of similar institutions was to become so important and influential in the later nineteenth and the twentieth century: the technical specialist who was regarded as educated because he had passed through difficult schools but who had little or no knowledge of society, its life, growth , problems and values, which only the study of history, literature and languages can give.

In economics especially but also in sociology, political science, psychology, and other social sciences we have trained many generations of such “technical specialists.” Is this wise? Put differently, would a typical PhD student in one of these fields benefit more, on the margin, from taking a course in history or literature or philosophy instead of one more course in quantitative methods?

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Teaching.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jc  |  16 July 2007 at 8:25 am

    Thank you Peter, this is a rather interesting point that had not previously occurred to me. I must go read the Hayek.

    But this kind of teaching – of technical specialists – was already taking place in Germany from mid-century onwards, though maybe not ignoring the classical tradition to the extent to which it was cut out in post-revolutionary France.

    The more general questions are around what kind of teaching – if any – was a necessary condition for the emergence of each country’s ‘industrial or commercial revolution’.

    I suspect that a closer of examination of this history can be as informative for us as it was for Hayek.

  • 2. Cliff Grammich  |  16 July 2007 at 8:57 am

    At one point in my graduate studies in political science, the department permitted PhD students to substitute a year of courses in statistical methods for the foreign language requirement. As it turned out, I fulfilled both, and have used the statistics much more than I’ve used the language, but still wonder about the wisdom of that administrative decision. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm (at least not on the web) whether this substitution is still permitted.

  • 3. drtaxsacto  |  16 July 2007 at 9:11 am

    Hayek’s book is one of his under appreciated gems. He also makes the case there that too much quantification of econ will hurt it.

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