BMCR 2001.08.02

The Pedagogical Contract: The Economies of Teaching and Learning in the Ancient World Learning in the Ancient World

, The pedagogical contract : the economies of teaching and learning in the ancient world. Master and use copy. Digital master created according to Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials, Version 1. Digital Library Federation, December 2002.. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000. 1 online resource (176 pages).. ISBN 9780472023226 $42.50.

Too starts her Introduction with the following paragraph: “The Pedagogical Contract is in many senses a counterintuitive book. It argues that pedagogy ideally must ignore the imperatives of the conventional marketplace—for relevance, utility, and productivity—because teaching and learning most enrich a community when the immediate material concerns of the community are disregarded. The book emphatically maintains this apparently perverse conviction, in the belief that this understanding of pedagogical economy liberates teaching and learning from history and the anxieties that history engenders. At the same time the book insists on the need to engage with antiquity and its powerful pedagogical iconographies as a means of defending its paradoxical argument” (p.1). The second sentence clearly states that the argument of the book concerns modern pedagogy, the third sentence apparently condemns the traditional approach of pedagogy and the final phrase looks to antiquity as offering a good example (or examples) of how one can and should think about pedagogy. I can well imagine that after reading this paragraph the reader will look again at the title and subtitle of the book and conclude that the subtitle is a misleading one, and (s)he will be right. For a few ancient thoughts and practices are discussed here but mainly in order to show that in Classical Athens there was a tendency to follow the imperatives of the marketplace (the Sophists) and that Socrates’ approach of teaching offers the right approach. Postclassical practice, about which we know much more than that of Classical Athens, is almost totally ignored, and postclassical Greek authors who have written on education (e.g. Plutarch, de liberis educandis, or Musonius Rufus’ Diatribe about the education of women) as well all Latin authors (Quintilian, for instance) are absent too (except Augustine).

Another distinctive feature of this book is that it has been written for the Anglo-American market with an emphasis on “American” and virtually neglects to look at the situation on the European continent or elsewhere. The organisation of secondary and tertiary education in German, French and Italian universities, to pick a few examples, was completely different from that in the U.K. In the U.S.A. the English model was taken over rather than the German one, although one should add, that the classicists of the nineteenth century, first and foremost Basil Gildersleeve, came to Germany to learn their classics in a proper way. Nowadays the U.K.-U.S.A. model with its system of bachelors and masters (we call it the “bama model) is becoming the general European system and many a university adminstrator and teacher are now working on its introduction at her/his university. From this point of view these people may get some ideas from the book under discussion. But different history and traditions will make it almost impossible to transfer the U.S. situation to Europe without important changes.

The main message of this book concerns the teacher-pupil relationship, not the methods of teaching. This relationship is called the “pedagogical contract” in imitation of “contrat social” of Rousseau. Nowadays a contract between an institution and its students is often being invoked and stipulates the duties and rights of both parties. Thus the disciplinary element plays a big role in that context. But Too talks about the pedagogical contract as a historical scenario that goes beyond the disciplinary (p. 7). In chapters one and two she explores the situation in classical Athens and first highlights the contract between teachers, such as the Sophists, and pupils, whereby the interaction between these is a give-and-take of a particular kind and is in essence an economic activity. An alternative contract in antiquity stages teaching and learning as selfless and disinterested activities that serve the community, by producing social identity. Here, however, many constraints are present and they have the danger of denying individualism. Therefore, Too starts, as it were, anew and explores in the next chapters “relationships among teacher, student, and knowledge that refuse to conform to the paradigm of “sophistic” teaching in keeping with social contract” (p. 8). Then she returns to the notion of “interest” and focuses on the immaterial profits of learning. In all these chapters interpretation of a small selection of ancient texts serves as a background to and as offering a foundation of Too’s insights in various aspects of contracts. Thus we get short or long discussions of texts from Hesiod, Aristophanes, Xenophon, Isocrates, Augustine’s “De magistro” and especially Plato’s dialogues.

In this way Too provides as with a study which shows the relevance of classical studies, and scholarship in general, for the modern scene of politics and social life. This is an important facet of our studies, and one should be grateful to her for having done the job. At the same time, uneasiness with the selective character of the subjects treated will remain.