Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Quintilian on Lecturers

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Quintilian on Lecturers

Article excerpt

Professor Louise Richardson, Oxford's new vice-chancellor, is worried about a new government plan to judge teaching quality. Her reason is that she does not know how to measure it. One wonders what else she does not know about assessing a university's basic function.

Plato made a distinction between the art of teaching and the pupil's desire for learning. Without the latter, the job was impossible. A good teacher did his best to strike that spark of desire which would turn into a flame. Success was not guaranteed: Plato knew students who preferred a suntan education (his image), turning over now and again till lightly educated on both sides.

As for pedagogy, the orator and teacher Quintilian (c. ad 35-100) summed it up beautifully: 'The teacher must have no vices himself nor tolerate them in others. He must not be strict and humourless, or free-and-easy and overfamiliar: the one breeds hatred, the other contempt. His conversation must concentrate on what is good and honourable; the more sound advice he gives, the less he will need to reprove. …

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