Bob Bailey

A myblog.arts site

Alfred N. Whitehead – Universities and their Function (1929)


The larger the university gets the more imagination it needs to continue to develop, continue with it’s ‘processing’ of students, continue to attract students due to the health of it’s ability to teach, to open one’s eyes to the unseen.

Students can learn by reading a book, watching a TED Talk presentation, watching YouTube, talking to friends/associates all without the input from a University. So what can a University provide? Staff experienced in a particular subject, peer learning (the more a student can see what others are producing from the same brief can be a major advantage from working alone), workshop facilities, seeing other departments and possibility of sharing these to create something blended and new.

I was intrigued by the paragraph where Whitehead talks about ‘freshness’; “knowledge does not keep any better than fish” is one analogy that I will remember; I teach very young students skills and impart my knowledge and experience from the past 25 years; this experience has changed in the recent past and my Profession has changed dramatically in the last 10 years… am I keeping up to date with my knowledge? Am I teaching students old stuff which will be of no use or relevance to them when they graduate? I can freshen up by researching modern techniques use din my professional practice AND I can freshen up my approach to how I talk about and relate to my old techniques.

Interesting to think about progression of knowledge needing ‘scholarship, discovery and invention’;  scholars, discovers and inventors.

Also interesting to think of Universities harbouring very efficient pedants and dullards. There’s no rule book on how to teach successfully (or is there? Can I read it please?) as we are all so very different in our characters and the way we communicate our subjects. But the amount of generic ‘stuff’ is confusing and negates a clear understanding in my humble opinion.

His critical dig at Businesses and governments where their rules and policies can not be levelled at Universities simply to produce good usable stock of workforce. The flag waving summary made me feel a little queasy but he trod quite a precarious path of having to appease the Businessmen awaiting to snap up the graduates and the students who want to be snapped up but also need the time at University to flourish, their brains to expand, their critical thinking developed, their naivety to be challenged and their imaginations to be expanded. This should never have been allowed to happen during their most formative years at primary and secondary schools – getting a grade is one thing; learning is another.


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