1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Giusanni and Adler I

Two educators I profoundly respect and admire are Luigi Giussani and Mortimer Adler. Adler's contribution to the Great Books movement is profound and helped lead a retrieval of Western thought in English translation; Giusanni's influence began in Italy in the late 1950s and has begun to be felt recently in the US. Both draw substantially from the Western tradition but there is a divergence when comes to understanding that tradition.

Adler's approach (as I understand it) is to present the student with a text of perennial value and help the student to ask deep questions from the dialogue with the text. From this dialogue, the student defines the meaning he or she finds in the text and refines (or recants) this understanding in conversation with others.

Giussani's approach differs inasmuch as he insists on the priority of experience in judging whether something is true or not. Giussani also envisions the educator at a witness to meaning; as one who carries a tradition in his or her person. The teacher is one who proposes a hypothesis of meaning to his or her students. Thus the student is invited to verify whether something is true or false or if judgment must be withheld.

Adler does not seem to admit proposing a particular hypothesis of meaning in the selection of Great Books but something similar to Giussani would seem to be afoot once one has said, "These texts but not these." Can the criteria for selecting books be anything other than the acceptance of a tradition?