Kingsley on Lectures

Charles Kingsley, whose clumsy attack on Newman lead to the writing of the Apologia, was a popular lecturer. He had, however, no illusions about the usefulness of lectures:

I myself prize classes far higher than I do lectures. From my own experience, a lecture is often a very dangerous method of teaching ; it is apt to engender in the mind of men ungrounded conceit and sciolism, or the bad habit of knowing about subjects without really knowing the subject itself. A young man hears an interesting lecture, and carries away from it doubtless a great many new facts and results: but he really must not go home fancying himself a much wiser man ; and why ? Because he has only heard the lecturer’s side of the story. He has been forced to take the facts and the results on trust. He has not examined the facts for himself. He has had no share in the process by which the results were arrived at. In short, he has not gone into the real scientia, that is, the ‘ knowing’ of the matter. He has gained a certain quantity of second-hand information: but he has gained nothing in mental training, nothing in the great art of learning the art of finding out things for himself, and of discerning truth from falsehood.

The point is so obvious that it is difficult to see how the German method of teaching primarily though lectures came to be so widespread. For the Victorians lectures were a form of amusement:

Now mind—I do not say all this to make you give up attending lectures. Heaven forbid. They amuse, that is, they turn the mind off from business; they relax it, and as it were bathe and refresh it with new thoughts, after the day’s drudgery, or the day’s commonplaces; they fill it with pleasant and healthful images for afterthought. Above all, they make one feel what a fair, wide, wonderful world one lives in; how much there is to be known, and how little one knows; and to the earnest man suggest future subjects of study.

4 thoughts on “Kingsley on Lectures

  1. “The marvellous thing about the seminar method” said a certain propagator of that method whom you know “is that if I weren’t here, it wouldn’t make any difference.”

    To which I thought “I’ll have my money back then, thanks”.



  2. In my class at TAC there was a certain gloomy aspiring capitalist who used to calculate exactly how much money we were “wasting per minute” in fruitless argument, while our tutors looked on in silence, “like so many grinning Canaanite idols.”


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