Friday, July 2, 2010

Where have all the scholars gone?

In my desktop version of the Random House Dictionary, scholarship is defined as, “the qualities, knowledge, or attainments of a scholar", and scholar is also defined therein as, “a learned or erudite person.” (“Random House Webster’s Concise Dictionary,“ 1993). In attempting to synthesize these definitions, perhaps a reasonable summary would be that a scholar is a person who has acquired knowledge through research and learning. If attainment of scholarship were this simple, the relative value of scholarship would be drastically reduced, for there are many in my opinion who have researched and learned without acquiring the qualities of a true scholar.

To be a scholar is much more than simply possessing knowledge. In addition to being learned, a genuine scholar believes in the absolute value of pursuing truth, beauty and goodness, and because of this, has more questions than answers.

A scholar must be learned to be sure. To have knowledge creates powerful possibility. What of the scholarly person, however, that possesses knowledge and doesn’t use it in any valuable moral service? Can this knowledge be considered beneficial other than for the sake of knowing? It is the understanding of true, beautiful and good things that provides a purpose to impart, share, and utilize knowledge in pursuit of excellence in the essence of Plato’s theory of knowledge. It is through reason and the science of Dialectic that the philosopher in any scholar will attain a purpose for knowledge.
Dialectic identifies the entire range and variety of forms- from forms of artifacts such as beds and chairs; lowly things such as apples and dogs; relations such as equality and similarity; values such as beauty and goodness and justice. By the power of dialectic the philosopher not only identifies all these forms and establishes their truth, but also moves toward organizing the forms into a single structured order of truth and value. The forms tend to constitute a hierarchical structure, a pyramid, from the many least universal to the few most universal, from the most concrete to the most abstract; from the forms of inanimate physical things to the Idea of the Good... the Idea of the Good is the end or fulfillment or purpose for which all things exist, and thus it alone gives intelligibility, truth, and goodness to all other forms, which are dependent upon it, and it alone provides their coordination and unity.” (Lavine, 1989, p.41).
The synthesis of forms in Plato’s Idea of the Good encourages students to define their own intellect. If the foundation of teaching is the truth, beauty and goodness that can be found in the world, those that are exposed to it are encouraged to seek and understand the same. As a teacher, I am constantly aware of this and strive to dwell on those wondrous positive elements of our world that are universal, abstract, worth knowing and pursuing. In furthering my study of how to be a better teacher and leader in the field of education, I aim to ground myself in whatever action I choose by remaining true to this principle. The Idea of the Good is strongly reflected in the art of teaching, undeniably a most scholarly endeavor. I want to emphasize this in my pedagogical leadership. In pursuit of a scholarly existence, I aim to align myself with people who share my faith in society’s ability to recognize the capacity in everyone to pursue their own intellectual growth, to synthesize Plato’s many forms in the essence of the Idea of the Good.

Webster’s defines intellect as, “the faculty of the mind by which one knows or understands.” (“Random House Webster’s Concise Dictionary,” 1993). I would argue, however, that this definition is also flawed as it applies to scholarship. Intellectual capacity is without question a necessary trait of the scholarly person. I believe however, that not knowing, or understanding, but wondering is the most natural state for a scholar.  The innate desire to question, to challenge and reflect on what is not known is the basis of scholarship. Scholars are perpetual learners willing to be immersed in the challenging pattern of learning that produces more questions with every bit of intellectual progress made. Lines 1 - 4 in chapter II of the Tao Te Ching as translated by Thomas Cleary state that:

“When everyone knows beauty is beauty,

this is bad.

When everyone knows good is good,

this is not good.” (Cleary, 1998, p.9).
“When it is forgotten that conventional conceptions are conventional conceptions, and they are taken for objective facts that everyone knows and no one questions, then narrow-minded bigotry and blind prejudice can develop unopposed.” (Cleary, 1998 p.133).
I agree with Cleary in my belief that complacency in the acceptance of ideas and theories as if they were objective facts is unproductive and damaging to a scholarly existence. In pursuing personal scholarship, I aim to produce opinions that respectfully challenge convention, and to never allow an accumulation of knowledge to contribute to a complacent state of knowing.

In synthesizing Plato’s Idea of the Good and one small teaching of the Tao Te Ching, I believe I have created a framework with which I can pursue a scholarly existence in the domain of educational leadership. I pledge to never lose sight of the truth, beauty and goodness in the world, and to accept in the accumulation of knowledge that I am not looking for answers, but really for more complex questions.

References

Cleary, Thomas (1998). The Essential Tao - An Initiation into the Heart of Taoism through the Authentic Tao Te Ching and the Inner Teaching of Chuang Tzu. New Jersey: Castle Books.

Lavine, T.Z. (1989). From Socrates to Sartre: the Philosophic Quest. Toronto: Bantam Books.

(1993). Random House Webster’s Concise Dictionary. New York: Random House.
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