A Culture of Teaching: Early Modern Humanism in Theory and Practice

By Rebecca W. Bushnell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4 Harvesting Books

Early modern humanist pedagogy netted the scholar as well as the schoolmaster in a web of contradictions. The schoolmaster, as we have seen, was at once all-powerful and insignificant, the father's double and his antagonist, the tyrant and the lover. The scholar, in turn, was both the shapeless lump of wax and the resistant force of nature, the pliant vine and the immutable flower. Both were caught together between pleasure and pain, freedom and mastery, for the schoolroom could be both a place to flee from the restrictions of social hierarchy and a site for reproducing that hierarchy. In the thinking about curriculum, and in particular in the reading practices that grounded humanist education, we find a similar oscillation between extremes of flexibility and rigid control, between a passion for variety and abundance and a fear of excess. At moments an uneasy. balance was struck, but in the process early humanist teachers created expectations for the range and style of reading from which the humanist today cannot easily escape.

Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine have argued that, while the ideal of humanist education may have been transmitting classical values and literary style through careful study and imitation of all ancient literature, the reality was a classroom of students ground down by numbing memorization and tiresome close reading that stressed not "argument or technique" but rather the students' collection (in R. R. Bolgar's words) of "uncommon idioms, pithy sayings, colorful anecdotes, anything that might one day serve to pad out a limping paragraph of their

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