Friday, April 17, 2009

Ireland and the poverty of ideas

"Je vais te raconter l'histoire de la philosophie. Pas toute, bien sûr, mais quand même ses cinq plus grands moments. Chaque fois, je te donnerai l'exemple d'une ou deux grandes visions du monde liées à une époque afin que tu puisses, si tu le souhaites, commencer à lire par toi-même les oeuvres les plus importantes. Je te fais, d'entrée de jeu, une promesse : toutes ces pensées, je te les exposerai d'une façon totalement claire, sans le moindre jargon, mais en allant à l'essentiel, à ce qu'elles ont chaque fois de plus profond et de plus passionnant. Si tu prends la peine de me suivre, tu sauras donc vraiment en quoi consiste la philosophie, comment elle éclaire de façon irremplaçable les multiples interrogations qui portent sur la façon dont nous pourrions ou devrions conduire nos existences..." Extract from French ex-minister for Education and philosopher Luc Ferry's book.
Our ex-minister appears on the right above conversing with the agents of Irish stulification. Read on!

While Minister Ferry was promoting the reading of Plato, Descartes, Kant and Nietzsche in French schools a couple of years ago, his Irish counterpart was sending a copy of Diarmuid Ferriter’s quasi-hagiography of Eamon De Valera to every school in the country, the very man who censored any ideas which contradicted our ‘holiest traditions’. The contrast couldn’t be more depressing
One often hears the expression ‘ time for new ideas’. But what is a new idea? What are ideas? Let’s narrow the question down: what conditions are necessary for the creation and advancement of new ideas? First of all, it presupposes an ability to excogitate, to think critically, to examine, dissect, reflect, elucidate, extrapolate etc. But critical examination of the world on an abstract level is disgracefully neglected in the Irish education system; one could go so far as to say it is scrupulously avoided. Although the Irish are wont to cite our superior education system as one of the key factors for the successes of the Celtic Tiger years, the Irish education system is, on the contrary, one of the State’s most conspicuous failures. An example of this failure is the falling number of students taking history as a subject for the leaving cert. We won’t mention the state of Irish and foreign languages! Although the study of history has increased marginally in the past few years, the numbers are significantly smaller than those sitting the exam in the 1980s. Of the 50 thousand students sitting the leaving cert this year, less than 10 thousand will write essays on history, compared with over thirty thousand in 1989. But the lack of interest shown by Ireland’s youth in history is only part of the problem in Irish education. We are facing the bleak prospect of a new generation well-versed in all the intricacies of market economics, technology and natural sciences, while ignorant of the world in which they live. It is the prospect of the ‘mindless moron, immunised for life against the contagion of thought’, as Professor Joe Lee so eloquently put it. Critical thought as a ‘contagion’ rather than an asset is widely nurtured in Ireland. But the lack of historical knowledge is only part of the problem. ‘Enterprise culture’ is what the Irish education system is about. One goes to school to learn skills that will enable one to make lots of money when one leaves. In such a society education simply becomes a byword for material enrichment.
The commercialisation of Irish education is a deeply worrying development. The problem is that the Irish state does not have a philosophy of education. State schools are left to the Church to run; here it is hoped that the combination of a ‘ Catholic ethos’- a term meaning ‘the mindless indoctrination of questionable values’, and ‘enterprise culture’- a term meaning ‘ the tendency to see the goal of life as the production of profit’ , this rabid anti-intellectualism is what the Irish education system fosters and nourishes. In France the contrast couldn’t be more pronounced. There the study of history, geography and philosophy are obligatory for all students sitting the French equivalent of the Leaving Cert. All French students have to spend at least a year studying philosophy before leaving school. That is why France has contributed more than any other country to the domain of the human sciences, philosophy, social science, political science, anthropology, sociology etc. This level of intellectual debate is essential in a multicultural society. The former French minister for education Luc Ferry is himself a highly acclaimed philosopher.
In Ireland, philosophy is not only not obligatory, it is not even an option on the curriculum. Critical thinking is subject to a priori exclusion. This is one of the reasons why multiculturalism in Ireland could become a problem in the near future. When an ‘enterprise culture’ is promoted over a philosophical culture, in other words, when mindless mercantilism triumphs over critical reflection, minds close early on and prejudices ossify. This ignorance about our own past and that of the world, coupled with an inability to think for ourselves constitutes what Joyce called a metaphysical ‘hemiplegia’ or paralysis affecting Irish society.
Morevover,the continuing centrality of the Catholic Church in Irish education is nothing short of a national disgrace, and this absurd situation will ensure the continual stultification of Irish society into the future.


Adam White said...

Oui, tu as raison mec. Il y a beaucoup plus de moutons en Irlande qu'on pense.

metrogael said...

Merci pour le commentaire Monsieur White!