I am a big fan of useful and practical. But I was reminded today of Simon Blackburn’s fabulous defence of university philosophy departments written in the Times Higher Ed magazine in 2009. He’s completely and utterly right in all that he says, not least that if anyone thinks research might not be ‘worth’ it then perhaps they should consider that the bank bailout of 2008 could have run the Arts & Humanities Council for 10,000 years.
You can read the full thing here: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=408854
But my favourite line is right near the end when he says this:
“As to access, from the academic point of view the sole barrier to participation is the hurdle of being sufficiently educated and competent to have profited from understanding and controlling the central categories of thought. From the social and financial point of view, the barriers include deprivation at an early age, insufficiently stimulating schooling and entrenched inequalities giving few people the confidence ever to become both curious and articulate.”
One of the things I tried most hard with in my own teaching was bringing about the confidence to be curious and articulate. It’s so easy for it to get knocked out of any child – rich or poor – and though it takes a long time to shove it back in, most often it can be done as long as you have the time and the energy required.