So, this weekend we spent a lot of time lighting fireworks with the neighbors. Among us was an 8th grader who loved reading. As she listed off a litany of her favorite books, I periodically asked "what was the moral of the story?" Being a good teacher who's always semi-on duty, I explained that there's a difference between knowing what happens in a story and what a story tells us, so to speak, about our lives, feelings, relations, etc.
Then today I was photo-copying a bunch of books before I leave for Florida. Came across this section of Aristotle's Metaphysics:
Experience does not seem to differ from art where something is to be done; in fact, we observe that men of experience succeed more than men who have the theory but have no experience. The cause of this is that experience is knowledge of individuals but art is universal knowledge, and all actions and productions deal with individuals. [...] Nevertheless, we regard understanding and comprehension as belonging to art more than to experience, and we believe that artists are wiser than men of experience, inasmuch as men of understanding know the cause but men of experience do not. For men of experience know the fact but not the why of it; but men of art know the why of it or the cause. [...] Thus, master-artists are considered wiser not in virtue of their ability to do something but in virtue of having the theory and knowing the causes. And in general, a sign of a man who understands is the ability to teach, and because of this we regard art more than experience to be science; for those who have the art can teach, but those who do not have it cannot teach.
I'm thinking of my encounter with the 8th grader and the passage above in terms of EnthyAlias's post this morning on education and my comments there. As a rhetorician, I should probably favor an education grounded in experience, and appreciate Aristotle's praise for individuals and action (though one can read A's preference for "art" here as echoing his preference for philosophy over rhetoric-- the appreciation for action becomes a necessity in a less-than-artsy world). But, I am concerned our educational institutions are overly concerned with quantifiable, accountable experience and less concerned with the why-ny art. To make a radical jump: NCLB focuses on the plot, not the moral. Discussion of morality is an interpretive endeavor. From a postmodern perspective, it is also a violent one. It presents us with more difference, and difference is difficult to negotiate. Against Aristotle, I would argue that "art" is rarely universal, and it is its particularity that sways contemporary education toward the simplicity of experience.
And yet, despite my suspicions of Aristotle, I still want to know the (universal) moral of the story. Another indication that we can never entirely escape our roots! But, perhaps, my desire isn't really to know the moral of the story as much as it is to invite another to share her experience in hopes that together, agonistically or perhaps even cooperatively, we can experience a glimpse of the why.