Learning from Myths and Metaphors
Chapter 5. Nietzsche on the Significance of Learning about the Past
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NIETZSCHE ON THE SIGNIFICANCE OF LEARNING ABOUT THE PAST1
Why should we teach children about the past? What significance, if any, is there in exposing students to certain “classic” texts in history, literature, philosophy, and science, as well as great works of art? What is the purpose, in short, of an education that introduces students to the cultural traditions of their past? Historically, these questions have received quite a bit of attention, particularly from various conservative thinkers and educators. Conservative thinkers from Plato to Allan Bloom have argued that learning about the past and the great works of tradition is essential in order to glorify and imitate them. These thinkers claim that the major works of our heritage should be taught because they contain invaluable insights for our lives. Studying these works, they believe, can combat the relativism, anti-intellectualism, nihilism, and even barbarism that threatens our youth and society in general. For Pragmatists, on the other hand, the value of the past is not so much as an educational end that should be emulated but rather as a means that can help us make sense of the present and anticipate the future. Pragmatists like William James and John Dewey assert that the past is important in so far as it can help us make sense of our current problems and inform our impending decisions. ← 91 | 92 →
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