19th Century Philosopher Nails “Personalized” Learning Cold

Anyone who has worked in a university or school knows that tingly feeling one gets when the business needs of the institution tries educational soundness.  There is much interest today, for instance, in “personalizing” learning through technology–a way to interject commercial innovation into the learning process in the name of societal progress.  Drawing the line between pedagogy and profiteering can become an exercise in deft scribbling. A recently translated collection of works by Friedrich Nietzsche offers insight on such matters from a 150 years ago.  The philosopher-prodigy wrote that seekers of education wrongly pursue:

as much knowledge and education as possible—leading to the greatest possible production and demand—leading to the greatest happiness: that’s the formula. Here we have Utility as the goal and purpose of education, or more precisely Gain: the highest possible income … Culture is tolerated only insofar as it serves the cause of earning money.

Rather, Nietzsche writes elsewhere that education should be more like this:

…for your true nature lies, not concealed deep within you, but immeasurably high above you, or at least above that which you usually take yourself to be. Your true educators and formative teachers reveal to you what the true basic material of your being is, something in itself ineducable and in any case difficult of access, bound and paralysed: your educators can be only your liberators.

Now that is “personalized” learning at its core, and not terribly removed from Dewey’s argument for democratic education.

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