The Ethics of Teaching and Scientific Research

By Sidney Hook; Paul Kurtz et al. | Go to book overview
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Teaching and the
Shaping of Souls

Robert A. Goldwin
Special Consultant on Education to
the President of the United States

I start with an anecdote, which, I think, may be helpful in telling you the background of my views and may also throw some light on our topic. When I was dean of St. John's College, it used to be a practice for people to sit around a certain table in the coffee shop and try to think of academic jokes. For instance, I once made up a motto that any college could adopt: "Where the truth lies."

One day we were trying to think of unlikely lecture titles. Someone thought of "Hegel's Use of Metaphor"; another was "The Humor of Immanuel Kant"; and I invented one: "Euclid's Rhetoric." I thought it was an excellent joke because it was so unlikely; for whether you read Euclid in the original or in translation, or whether you simply studied geometry years ago you know that he made no rhetorical effort. That is, proposition after proposition after proposition starts out with the statement of a problem, with a list of what was given, with a series of arguments first step, second step, third step, and so on and a conclusion that now this has been proven, q.e.d., and on to the next theorem.

The more I thought about it, however, the more I felt that I had made not a good joke, but a good discovery. I began to think of it this way. Suppose you were Euclid in Athens, or wherever he was, and suppose you wanted to give form to a nation, a people, a city where geometry would be taken very seriously. It would be necessary to develop a certain taste, a certain inclination, a certain inner discipline that would begin to pervade the whole society. It would be receptive to

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