The Rice Thresher (Houston, Tex.), Vol. 52, No. 29, Ed. 1 Thursday, May 6, 1965 Page: 3 of 16
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reprint hi* article.—Ed.
By LOUIS H. MACKEY
"Cast thy bread upon the waters," says the
Preacher, "for thou shalt find it after many days."
Soggy, one suspects, and unfit to eat. I should like to
drop a few crumbs of my own into the umbered cur-
rents of the controversy: teaching vs. research. I am
prepared to relish them in whatever form they return.
In the nature of things there is no more opposition
between teaching and research than there is between
science and religion. xBut as the men in black and the
men in white have from time to time put up a science-
religion battle, so the student and the study have
often been set at enmity by their respective handlers.
Neither research nor pedagogics is an end in it-
self. The aim of teaching is the communication of old
knowledge in a way that will inspire (among other
things) the discovery of new. The aim of research is
the discovery of new knowledge in a way that will
expand and correct the old.
Eternal Verities Safe
The eternal verities are out of danger. What is
contested is the grubby little facts. And the one fact,
grubby but not so little, which I am mulling over is
the fact that the teaching function is getting the dirty
end of the stick. In practice. And in theory. In the
American university. Present company not excepted.
The eagle of the American university comes ever-
more home to roost on the assumption that the instiga-
tion, organization, and promotion of research is the
one end to which all other activities, instruments, and
persons are to be subordinated. And this is false. If
the business of research is the uncovering of knowl-
edge, then this must be added: Some knowledge, but
not much, is intrinsically good. Most of it is only use-
ful, either tributary to a larger understanding of self
and world, 01* just plain silent-flush useful. Even that
knowledge which is good-in-itself is not necessarily
good-in-all-circumstances: the most sublime truth of
religion may not be relevant to the problem at hand,
and there are times when prayer would be grotesquely
irrelevant. Itaque magis in minimis.
People, however, are ends. And while it cannot be
denied that research serves people, neither can it be
denied that teaching does the same, and rather more
directly. Yet many universities, and all graduate
schools, proceed from the axiom that all knowledge is
inherently and absolutely good. The corollary of which
is that teaching, since it produces little new informa-
tion, but mostly just spreads the old stuff around, is
a menial function. The consequences are legion: the
teaching function of the university is demeaned in
manifold ways in the persons of those who perform it
and those who most obviously benefit from it. Under-
graduate students and those faculty who are concerned
with teaching them are set under the rubric "more."
The "real" university is the communio sanctorum of
research personnel and all their expensive appurten-
What accounts for this attitude? Many things, no
doubt. But apart from the obvious fact that research
is better-paid (if not more rewarding) and easier
(students, being people, are such nuisances), there are
three factors I would mention: the modem lack of a
sense of tradition, a mistaken concept of 'profession/
and the strange but widespread notion that teaching
cannot be evaluated while research can.
In reverse order: it is argued that teaching can-
not be evaluated and therefore cannot be valued. Re-
search, it is implied, can be evaluated and is therefore
appropriately rewarded. This contrast is nonsense.
Teaching can be evaluated as adequately as research.
Every department chairman knows (if he cares to)
what kind of teaching job his staff is doing. He will,
among other things, consult student opinion, and weigh
it critically from the vantage of his years and experi-
If it be protested that a large element of personal
judgment enters into this evaluation, I reply that a
correspondingly large subjective element enters into
the estimation of research—for I suppose no one is so
naive as to think that the application of a micrometer
to a stack of publications, or a majority vote of dis-
tinguished scholars, constitutes an evaluation of re-
search. I have heard it said: it is easy enough to know
the great teachers and the soporific ones, but the
large group in the middle cannot be handily ranked.
True, and the case is the same with research. I could
at this moment name the few giants in philosophy,
and the innumerable bits of dead wood. But I or any-
one would be hard pressed to grade the moderately
good people in between.
The Student's Strength
People who show an interest in undergraduate
teaching are often met with this argument: teaching
is all very well, even necessary, but one should not
circulate too exclusively among undergraduates; one
should publish in order to test his thought in the
crucible of the opinions of his peers. (Incidentally, the
last of my peers who told me this admitted that he
had not read anything I had published.)
This argument has a powerful appeal: it suggests
that the undergraduate teacher is playing at wooden
swords with the kids when he should be out swinging
steel with the jocks. Nevertheless, it is specious. Of
course one should communicate with his equals. But
it is not the case that undergraduate teaching is debili-
tating. The reverse is often the case. Much of the
contents of any scholarly journal is an exercise in
intellectual self-abuse, about as productive and as
entertaining as its physical counterpart. Whereas little
is so strenuous, so invigorating, and so exciting as
teaching—provided one does a job of it. I have never
found that the professional naivete of the undergradu-
ate hurt his intelligence or his philosophical perspi-
It is curious, by the way, that universities do not
officially recognize teaching as a profession. Physics
is a profession, as are engineering-, sociology, English,
French, Gennan, and even (on occasions) "poet" and
"artist." But teaching is not. I tall this curious, be-
cause it seems to me that teaching is the only profes-
sion I have. Philosophy I regard as my vocation—and
dirty end of the stick'
if that sounds pretentious, all I mean by it is that I
should have to "philosophize" even if there were no
people around to teach, even if (professionally) I dug
ditches or ran a lathe. Not that I think of teaching
only as a profession: I would make a nuisance of my-
self talking even if I weren't paid to do so. But the
fact is that I do make my living teaching, and that
teaching, therefore, is at least my profession.
Finally, tradition: I suspect that much of the
preference given to research is a product of the wide-
spread lack of a sense of tradition in academia. The
contemporary notion of research is of rather recent
origin. Its prototypes are the laboratory of the natural
scientist (a modern invention) and the study of the
geisteswissenschaftliche scholar (a nineteenth-century
German parody on the laboratory). In fine, research
in the modern sense knows no tradition, only frontiers.
Teaching presupposes a tradition to be critically trans-
mitted, enhanced, and enlarged. The contemporary
lack of a sense of tradition issues naturally in a fail-
ure to understand the importance of teaching. It is
noteworthy that the partisans of research regard
graduate teaching as the only "real" teaching, for
here one is always at the frontiers, i.e., one is helping
future professionals work through bibliographies of
current and past research so that in their own bibliog-
raphies-to-be they may not—a fate equivalent to schol-
arly death—repeat any work that is already done.
Nothing could be less interesting to the researcher
than the rediscovery for himself of an ancient or even
The Worth of the Past
Bernard of Chartres, in the twelfth century, said:
"We are like dwarfs seated on the shoulders of giants;
we see more things than the ancients and things more
distant, but this is due neither to the sharpness of our
own sight nor the greatness of our own stature, out
because we are raised and borne aloft on that gnu::
mass." The twentieth century would simply n-verse
this: "Newton did very well for a man of 1k< z::r.e
and circumstances, but of course he couldn't have
known, with his relatively crude techniques, etc.. what
we know now." Whatever justification there may he
for this attitude in the sciences, it is not self-evident
that this should be our stance toward the past and
the pedagogues who try to keep its memory green.
It may be objected: but if no one ever published,
the tradition would be slim indeed. True. I am not
saying that no one should publish. Only that teaching
is every bit as important as research and publication,
and should not be downwinded as if it weren't.
Socrates was only a teacher. That he happened to
be Plato's teacher is our good luck. But his worth as
a. teacher is not equivalent to his effect on Plato's
publication list. Teaching is not an adjunct or a stim-
ulus for publication. The majority of my students will
never publish a line: which does not decrease one bit
the value of introducing them into the richness of the
past and into the excitement and rigor of thinking of
that past. People are ends; and there is something to
to be said for helping them to achieve an understanding
of themselves and the cosmos even if it never revolu-
tionizes veterinary science nor adorns the uncut pages
of a learned journal. _
(Continued on Page G)
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THE RICE THRESHER, MAY 6, 1 9 6 5—P A G E 3
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Kelly, Hugh Rice. The Rice Thresher (Houston, Tex.), Vol. 52, No. 29, Ed. 1 Thursday, May 6, 1965, newspaper, May 6, 1965; Houston, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth244947/m1/3/?rotate=270: accessed May 21, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Rice University Woodson Research Center.