Tag Archives: education

Space Settlements and Education part 1

Introduction

Since at least the time of Plato classical republicans have placed high emphasis on the importance of education. For classical republicans the main purpose of education is the cultivation of the virtues which are required to be a citizen. Citizenship in a republican sense means active citizenship, hence the republican way of life is called vita activa (Latin for active life).

This emphasis on active citizenship as the central purpose of education, has consequences for the curriculum used in education. The Ancient Greeks as well the Romans put great importance on the acquiring skills in logic and rhetoric. Together with grammar (the understanding of language, the classical definition is broader than the modern one), these subjects forms the trivium. These subjects were (and still are) considered to be essential for participation in politics. Recall the in Athens citizens were supposed to show up at the popular assembly.

After the completion of the trivium, the curriculum was continued with the quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. In classical antiquity algebra was not well-developed, and was only introduced as a separate discipline in Europe after the renaissance. The subjects of the quadrivium were considered more advanced than the trivium, and the latter could be seen as primary education and the former as secondary education. We will return to this later on.

With the decline of republicanism and its subsequent replacement with consumerism, the primary purpose of education also shifted. Nowadays the curriculum is based on the perceived needs of the “economy”, or more often on what students and their parents believe to be “useful” for their prospective careers. For instance many schools are now replacing classical languages such as Latin with Chinese, because there’s a wide-spread believe that this language is more relevant in today’s world.

This attention for the economic relevance of school curricula is not without merit, but in most countries it’s taken at the cost of the civic function of schools. Ideally the curriculum should serve both these civic and the economic objectives. After all an adequate preparation to one’s professional career is a necessary condition for financial independence, which is in turn a fundamental condition for freedom in a republican sense.

Due to the very importance of education, classical republicans have stressed from ancient times that education is a public affair and hence that the community as a whole is responsible for the proper education of its members. Consequently the role of parents in a republican educational system is limited, and parental preferences should in no way obstruct the primary purpose of education: the forming of virtuous citizens. Any parent or other person who seeks to obstruct this function of education, should be tried for high treason in a republican society.

Since times immemorial autocrats and enemies of freedom have abused education to indoctrinate the youth. Republicans abhor this abuse, instead the young should be trained in critical thinking in order to resists demagogues and apologists of authoritarianism. A republican society cannot tolerate those who want to replace education with indoctrination of any kind.

In this series we will discuss the basic outline of the educational system of republican space settlements. In part 2 we will discuss the structure of primary and second education, and in part 3 we will discuss tertiary education.

Encyclopaedia Mordana

Just some idea I have had for some years. Most countries and major languages, have their own “prestigious” encyclopedia. The Enclycopaedia Britannica is the most prominent English encyclopedia, though it has to endure firm competition from Wikipedia, the on-line free encyclopedia. The necessity of a reliable encyclopedia is obvious, especially in (public) education.

Despite the general high quality of the English Wikipedia, there’s a great reluctance to cite it as a reference among teachers and academics. Because of the open nature of this encyclopedia, its accuracy cannot be taken for granted. However, the popularity of Wikipedia, clearly shows there is a steady demand for its services.

Therefore I would propose that the governments of space settlements will set up their on-line high quality encyclopedia. Basically this Encyclopedia Mordana will be a hybrid of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and Wikipedia. Like the former it will have a professional staff of editors, who will take care of the quality of the encyclopedia. And like the latter, anyone may propose articles or amendments to existing articles, only these have to be approved by the responsible editors.

Wikipedia is funded by donations, whilst the on-line version of the EB was initially funded by advertising, but the publisher was soon forced to move the paid subscriptions. The Encyclopedia Mordana will be publicly funded by the department of public education, because of its explicitly educational purpose. Consequently everyone will be able to read the EM for free.

A few words on honorary degrees

We are working on a few posts dedicated to educational reforms for space settlements, but in this post we want to discuss the topic of honorary degrees. These are academic degrees awarded by institutions such as universities, which differ from ordinary degrees in that the usual requirements for such a degree (usually a doctorate) are waived by the awarding institute.

Ordinary academic degrees are awarded to students who have earned those by virtue of their studies and scientific research. But honorary degrees are awarded to people to recognize their contributions to society, and (too) often these supposed contributions are dubious, for instance in case of awarding honorary degrees to royalty. This is an issue, because honorary and normal degrees have exactly the same status. A person who has received an honorary doctorate, is fully entitle to call himself “Dr. X”, even if he have no other academic degrees.

The awarding of honorary degrees undermines the meritocratic nature of scientific academia. PhD students put years of hard work to research in order to earn their degrees, whilst an honorary doctors have done nothing of this. Though many universities award honorary degrees, there a few which do not as matter of policy. This includes, among others, MIT and Stanford University.

Therefore we propose that awarding honorary degrees and the use of such degrees should be prohibited by federal law. Instead of awarding honorary degrees, universities of space settlements should follow the example of the University of California by awarding medals to honor notable persons. Such medal could be called “University of X Medal”, but the recipients of these medals do not receive any academic titles.