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Topic: Notes On A Century
Replies: 4   Last Post: Sep 19, 2013 5:08 PM

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Registered: 12/6/04
Notes On A Century
Posted: Sep 19, 2013 8:11 AM
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We are all familiar with the notion that the experiences of other people in other fields of human endeavor can often shed light on our own efforts. This forum may find interesting a couple of comments by Bernard Lewis from his book, "Notes On A Century: Reflections Of A Middle East Historian".

"Good undergraduate teaching is possible only if the students arrive knowing something. If you have to spend the first two years of undergraduate education teaching them what they should have known by the time they were fourteen, they aren't going to get very far." (Pg 192, pp 1)

"Over the years I have seen a decline of scholarly standards in my own field as well...Previously the study of Middle Eastern history was cultivated by very few teachers teaching very few students, and therefore reasonably high standards were maintained. In the fifties and sixties there was an enormous growth of interest in the region for political reasons, military reasons, and commercial reasons, and the development of these studies was liberally irrigated with oil and other money. If there is a greater need for books than there are people who are capable of writing them, more appointments to be filled than people capable of filling them, then there will be a deterioration. It's inevitable. You get a kind of Gresham's law of scholarship, the bad driving out the good." (Pg 192, pp 3)

I suppose the application of Lewis's comments to math education is obvious. I must say, however, that one can find in them a lot of explanatory force applicable to recent geo-political events. The agonizingly ill-conceived adventures of America in the Middle East, first under the naïve George W and then under the confused Barack H, must be attributable, at least in part, to very bad advice coming from rather poor Middle East scholars.

In fact, it occurs to me that Lewis makes an earlier comment appropriate to this interpretation. Professor Lewis gave his first lectures in the U.S. in the early 1950's. On pg 113 he says,

"There seemed to be quite a lot of general interest in the Middle East, most of it uncomplicated by any knowledge of the area or by any realization of the complexity of the problems involved."

Recently, we have been discovering the truth of this assertion, at great cost to ourselves in blood and treasure.


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