[Day 10] Talk with professor – Dr. Rosental (part 2) -Book recommendation,school system and college education (1o min read)

Find Part 1 here.


Me: So what are the attributes, or what you may call habits, routines that you think are beneficial for philosophers?

Dr. Rosental:  I think probably some kind of curiosity of spirit, or in our language we call it desires, or seeking. I think there are very different kind of philosophy school today and each one requires different kinds of mental habits than others. Some schools of philosophy depend on logic. Some depend on close, careful reading of text. Some depend on observational skills and creativity. But I think some desires to seek out, some curiosity to understand would be common to anybody to want to be philosophers. If you lose your curiosity, then I don’t see any ways you can do philosophy. You will then just do book report. Every time I teach Intro, I read that materials dozens of time and I’m never tired of reading because I’m always find new things in it

Me: What is your favorite book? And what is the book that you wish people should read but they are not doing that right now?

Dr. Rosental: You mean in philosophy specifically?

Me: I mean in general.

Dr. Rosental: *think for some time* In some senses, that’s impossible to answer in that as I went go through life, I went to significant intellectual changes. What I thought was interesting and important at certain times is not what I find interesting and important at another times.  That creates an ambiguity in answering your question. One way to answer the question is what book affect me at the moment, but next week could be different and so was 2 weeks ago.

Me: Do you want me to rephrase the question?

Dr. Rosental: Sure.

Me: In the last year, what book is the most influential to you and what book do you wish the youth, like your students, to read but they’re not reading it right now? 

Dr. Rosental: Yes, it’s a easier question. I guess I would say a lot of the philosophy that I read is for work and so it’s not as exciting to me. It’s like a part of a big thing. But I also teach Great books (info: a course that study classical books) and I would say “The Brother Karamazoz” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I taught Great Books last spring and I have never read the book before. It’s a very significant book. It’s a very big deal. I think I would double up and say that the book people should read but they don’t because it’s very very long. And it’s also Russian and people are little bit, let’s say, afraid of the Russian sensibility.

Me: Do you want to have a introduction, like little advertisement for the book? Why should I read it?

Dr. Rosental: First of all, the story is very interesting. It’s well-written. It’s such a very nice read. In the book, he substantially engages in philosophical issues, religious issues, psychology, sociology, history, economics. I mean, he gets into these issues, and really explores them. But they don’t feel like they add on. They feel like they’re parts of understanding how the story works. His writing on these topics is very interesting, very productive I would say. It’s very rich.

Me: You said before that you did your thesis on Aquinas and he’s about philosophy combining faith and reason on education, right?

Dr. Rosental: Yes.

Me: So, what is your opinion about our current education system? How do you feel about obligatory schooling?

Looking at the history of obligatory school system, we can see that it started in the industrial era when they need mass education. It’s for workers and slaves. It is more about conformity, about creating product of human to follow orders. Do you think it is still appropriate in today lives? What is your opinion about that?

Dr. Rosental: That’s a good question. The Liberal Arts preceded all other forms of education, goes all the way back to the Ancient Greeks. And the notion was if you study the Liberal Arts, it would give you the resources to become a better, more informed, more virtuous person. Today, we slightly transform that question because we don’t generally live in a society that talks about virtuous people so much. But we’re more interested in the liberal aspect of Liberal Arts. In our society, we think that is important for an individual to steer their destiny through life. Individualism is really important in United States. And Liberal Arts are seen as giving you the tools to help determine your own future, and be able to choose from the options out there in the world, to give you the ammunition to find your way.

I think that mass education was necessary back in the Industrialized. And I think that there was a period, I would say from 30s,40s to the 70s, but mostly in the 60s and 70s, when the Liberal Art education’s mission was more dominant. So if you combine mass education with Liberal Arts, then you get the mass of people becoming more capable of more self-determining, so less like workers and slaves. I think that education has the potential of doing good if combining. I think the misfortune is definitely in the last 20 years, and significantly so after the Great Recession 8 years ago, education has swung back to career – oriented. First of all, they don’t value Liberal Arts field because they are not traditionally career-oriented. So they avoid subjects like Philosophy specifically. And I think what that does is it makes them direct to their career but they become slaves to that career path because they don’t know anything else. And they’re not likely to be very good people because they are not well-rounded, they don’t have much perspectives. Whatever they’re taught to be important on that career, they think that’s ethically important. I think it is very terrible.

Me: What is your opinion about this argument “The School is the Church of the Modern World” ? If you’re a children, you’re supposed to go to school. You’re supposed to go through K-12. The reason you go to college is because all jobs require some kind of degrees. The society are fooled by the efficiency of the school system. If you want to apply for a job, you must have a degree, but a degree is just a certificate for your ability of learning, not doing. People do not go to college for knowledge. People go to college for jobs. There are laws that require job to have requirements of a certain degree. There is a discrimination that forces people into the school system and that system creates its self-demand. What do you think about it?

Dr. Rosental: I think that assessment is largely accurate. I think it’s obligatory education is a very variable thing for a person who’ve gone into it with the eyes opened and seen the value of it. Otherwise, it’s just about enforcement. I think most jobs can be done without a college education. I think it’s a tragedy that most jobs require one. That’s just stupid. It’s basically means you have to spend 4 years and a bunch of money to get a job, and instead of that, you could have done the job right our of high school. So I think that lots of people shouldn’t go to college if the reason is to find a job. I also think that orientation on jobs at colleges, or job-training misses the point of what college education should be. I think technical school education is different. You need to learn how to repair cars or air-conditioner, or you need to work in a lab, or technicians or something. There is few post-high school education that you can learn that kind of stuff. But college education should be devoted to broad-based learning.

Me: Ok, so here is the last question, what do you think is the appropriate definition of college education?

Dr. Rosental: Well, I don’t think I can do that. I don’t think there should be a one size fits all. I think there should be some school that career-oriented. I think there should be some school offers a little bit of that but more about finding your own ways. There are schools that don’t have general education programs. There are schools that don’t have rigid curriculum that students can work with the faculty to find their paths for themselves. And there’s all kind of stuff in between, all kind of different models. So I think it’s good that there are diversity of models. It’s actually bad when we try to get everybody on the same page because that is what induces conformity. Currently, we’re trying to get everybody in the same page about college being productive. Like here, at Mercer, sometimes people say “Oh, that professor is boring” and “this professor is fun. We have conversations”. I think it would be wrong to try to get one to be the other because it’s good to get boring lectures. It’s part of existence, dealing with boring people. You don’t get to encounter fun people your whole life. You need to experience different teaching styles, different personalities different approaches. The more perspectives you get, the better you have an opportunity to choose what you think is important. The less experiences, the less options you’re going to know what’s available to you. So I don’t think college education should be a certain way. I think it should be all kind of ways.

Me: Thank you for the conversation. It’s my pleasure to listen to you talking about all those things. And I think that would conclude this interview. 

*Shake hands*


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