The Poverty of PPE, Episode Seven

AN IMPORTANT DIGRESSION

29. We should not pretend, however, that altering the content of a paper whilst retaining the present examination system can fulfil the conditions necessary for an integrated course. Whilst there are eight papers the course will be fragmented. In the same way, to break down the examination system will also, necessarily, be to break down the tutorial system. The tutorial is only another form of examination. It cannot be an integrative factor in our studies – only a class or seminar can bring to bear on the same problem minds with different trainings. In a sense then, the only way to be realistic is to demand the impossible: that is, that which is impossible given the present system of University and social power and authority. As we criticise each paper and offer suggestions for change, however radical, we shall time and time again be confronted with the inability to solve the problem of content without simultaneously solving the problem of form. In short, the deficiencies of the way we are taught and what we are taught reinforce each other mutually. To treat this problem fully, we should have to consider the length of the course, why only a few of the available teaching and work methods are employed, etc. [NOTE: I owe these insights largely to C. H. Allen.]

30. It is to be hoped that the warnings contained in the previous paragraph strike the reader more forcefully for having been put after the first critique of a specific paper. It is all too easy to make intellectual criticisms and suggest alternatives: the Faculty Board which has charge of PPE has done it for years. Changes fail to be made for a great number of reasons: somebody (usually a philosopher) will be out of a job; the outside world won’t like it; one change is bound to lead to another, who knows where the rot will stop? And so on. The conclusion is increasingly forced upon one that the only sensible demands is for a total transformation – a demand backed up by the power of the whole student body. But that demand will only unite the whole student body IF it is the result of painstaking intellectual work. It is for this reason, that it is thought worthwhile to take PPE to pieces, paper by paper.

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