Back in my teaching days, “relevance” was one of the things I hated most.
Part of it was the inevitable politicization — “making X relevant to students’ lives” never means anything other than “using X as an excuse to preach tedious Leftist politics at a captive audience.” But the other part was: Knowledge is supposed to be irrelevant. You’re the student; it’s your job to make it relevant to your life. That’s what “learning” means.
Let’s suppose I assign the Meditations. “Relevance,” in the Ed Biz sense, is pretty much nil. The only thing Marcus Aurelius and a modern college kid have in common is their shared humanity. That’s their only point of comparison. But… that’s enough, because that’s where the learning happens.
Is Marcus a good man? A hypocrite? A stuffed shirt? Is he a manly man, or a whiny emo kid? Whatever you choose, ask yourself why you see him that way… then ask yourself, How did Marcus see himself? Marcus’s isn’t the easiest head to get into, but it’s far from the toughest. If nothing else, you’ve learned a little bit of empathy from the exercise.
Then consider his doctrine. Would you want to be a Stoic? Can you be a Stoic, in the post-Freudian world? Now you’ve learned a bit about the assumptions underpinning Marcus’s world, and your own, and the differences between the two.
Let’s say it’s not possible to be a full-blown Stoic anymore (that whole “unconscious” thing). Does any of Marcus’s advice still apply? How much of it is culture-bound? Can we re-write even his most Stoical maxims into something applicable today?
Then go back to the beginning. What was your opinion of Marcus before, and what is it now? If it changed, why?
I’ve spelled it out this way — at the risk of insulting the reader — to illustrate that this process used to be automatic. I didn’t have to teach college kids how to do this, because they’d gotten it in high school, in junior high, from their parents. Nowadays, of course, I can’t teach it to them — it’s not relevant, because they already know everything worth knowing; my job is just to put the A in the grade book, for record-keeping purposes.
Yeah, we’re pretty much screwed.Loading Likes...