Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Nunavut University?

I held off as long as I could...

I love the idea of developing an accredited university in Nunavut—I'm a lover of education and knowledge in general. But I have found—much to my dismay—that I often have notions that seem somewhat at odds with those of others. This didn't use to bother me much when I had that indignant hunger for 'social justice' (ie, my ideas of it anyhow). But it was a hunger and thirst of equal opportunity—shall I say?

I must admit that I didn't read the articles about the idea of 'Nunavut university' that I have been seeing recently in the media outlets that focus on Arctic issues and current affairs. The taglines kind of put me off (I thought: here we go again), and I do not enjoy getting worked up like I used to anymore. But I bit the bullet and gave in to actually read the news piece on the CBC website.

I've been a longtime supporter of Terry Audla. I think he's one of a handful of Inuit leaders who take his work seriously and actually has the savvy to advocate for our concerns and interests convincingly from inside the system on out. His words make a whole lot of sense:

"It's based on Inuit becoming more aware of where they stand in society in general. When it comes to the decision-makers, academia has a lot of influence. When you have that, the more credence you're given." (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/nunavut-university-promoted-as-voice-and-inspiration-for-inuit-culture-1.3077490)

This is in sharp contrast with what the other quoted comments say about the idea of a Nunavut university some of whom are already saying what Inuit think:

An initial course list was proposed: Inuit studies, fine arts, linguistics, political science and indigenous governance, education, health, natural science and law.

Research would be limited to what Inuit care about.

"One participant noted that the European tradition of 'knowledge for knowledge's sake' does not align with Inuit beliefs and values, and as such should not be promoted or supported by a university in Inuit Nunangat," says the report. (ibid)

wow. you don't say...

I was watching a The Simpsons episode where Lisa actually convinces Principal Skinner and the Superintendent to implement a Humboldt school. Though it made tongue-in-cheek fun of this education theory and practice the theory and practice itself is a very interesting concept.

Wilhelm von Humboldt (22 June 1767 – 8 April 1835) was a Prussian polymath who was appointed by Friedrich Wilhelm III to reform the education system of the empire. I first came across a reference to this great man in a book on the Riemann Hypothesis and was immediately intrigued by him in that his work produced one of the most productive era of advancements in human knowledge in the German tongue.

A cursory glance at the Wikipedia entry on his name says of him:

Humboldt installed a standardized system of public instruction, from basic schools till secondary education, and founded Berlin University. He imposed a standardization of state examinations and inspections and created a special department within the ministry to oversee and design curricula, textbooks and learning aids.

Humboldt's plans for reforming the Prussian school system were not published until long after his death, together with his fragment of a treatise on the 'Theory of Human Education', which he had written in about 1793. Here, Humboldt states that 'the ultimate task of our existence is to give the fullest possible content to the concept of humanity in our own person […] through the impact of actions in our own lives.' This task 'can only be implemented through the links established between ourselves as individuals and the world around us' (GS, I, p. 283).

Humboldt's concept of education does not lend itself solely to individualistic interpretation. It is true that he always recognized the importance of the organization of individual life and the 'development of a wealth of individual forms' (GS, III, p. 358), but he stressed the fact that 'self-education can only be continued […] in the wider context of development of the world' (GS, VII, p. 33). In other words, the individual is not only entitled, but also obliged, to play his part in shaping the world around him.

Humboldt's educational ideal was entirely coloured by social considerations. He never believed that the 'human race could culminate in the attainment of a general perfection conceived in abstract terms'. In 1789, he wrote in his diary that 'the education of the individual requires his incorporation into society and involves his links with society at large' (GS, XIV, p. 155). In his essay on the 'Theory of Human Education', he answered the question as to the 'demands which must be made of a nation, of an age and of the human race'. 'Education, truth and virtue' must be disseminated to such an extent that the 'concept of mankind' takes on a great and dignified form in each individual (GS, I, p. 284). However, this shall be achieved personally by each individual, who must 'absorb the great mass of material offered to him by the world around him and by his inner existence, using all the possibilities of his receptiveness; he must then reshape that material with all the energies of his own activity and appropriate it to himself so as to create an interaction between his own personality and nature in a most general, active and harmonious form' (GS, II, p. 117).

In the original text from which this section has been lifted without attribution, "GS" refers to Humboldt, Wilhelm von. 1903–36. Gesammelte Schriften: Ausgabe Der Preussischen Akademie Der Wissenschaften. Bd. I—XVII, Berlin. (Cited as GS in the text, the Roman numeral indicates the volume and the Arabic figure the page; the original German spelling has been modernized.) "Gesammelte Schriften" means "Collected Writings". (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm_von_Humboldt)

This pretty well encapsulates the Humboldtian model of higher education  (German: Humboldtisches Bildungsideal, literally: Humboldtian education ideal) that—I would contend—is more in line and spirit of what Terry Audla (and, by extension, IQ notions of knowledge) envisions as to what form the Nunavut university should take.

The Humboldtian model of higher education [...] is a concept of academic education that emerged in the early 19th century and whose core idea is a holistic combination of research and studies. Sometimes called simply the Humboldtian Model, it integrates the arts and sciences with research to achieve both comprehensive general learning and cultural knowledge, and it is still followed today. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humboldtian_model_of_higher_education)

The thing that concerns me greatly about the GN outline of the proposed Nunavut university is that embedded in it is the taking away of the notion of 'academic freedom' that founds not only our conventional institutions of higher learning but in particular the Humboldt model that has enriched the human experience in subtle but meaningful ways.

We should also distinguish bureaucratic notions of Inuit (traditional) Knowledge and the Inuit ideal of inuliurniq which is motivated by giving the individual intellectual and practical tools to be able to problem-solve even in the case of complete isolation out in the wilderness.

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts...


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