Edited by David Palfreyman



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THE OXFORD TUTORIAL:
Thanks, you taught me how to think’

  1. Edited by David Palfreyman

With contributions from: James Clark, Richard Dawkins, Robin Lane Fox,

Richard Mash, Peter Mirfield, James Panton, Roger Pearson,

Penny Probert Smith, Christopher Tyerman, Alan Ryan, Suzanne Shale, Andrew Smith, and Emma Smith

(C) David Palfreyman and the Contributors, 2008

Published by OxCHEPS, 2008 (second edition)



Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies

c/o New College, Oxford, OX1 3BN, UK.



http://oxcheps.new.ox.ac.uk/
Sponsored by Blackwell’s, Oxford, OX1 3BQ, UK.
Printed by Alden, Oxfordshire, OX29 OYG, UK.
ISBN 978-0-9547433-7-6
This English second edition is also available on-line from the Papers Page (Item 1) at the OxCHEPS website.
Chinese edition, 2008, from Peking University Press, Beijing, PR China.

PREFACE
The Oxford Tutorial has an almost mystic, cult status. It is Oxford’s ‘premium product’ for which, via college academic fees, it commands ‘a premium price’. But the Tutorial has its critics, both within and beyond Oxford. Is it an anachronism in the mass higher education system of the twenty-first century? Is the traditional tutoring of Oxford’s undergraduates now too labour intensive and too expensive a burden for the University and its colleges as State funding of higher education declines? Do the dons want to escape the heavy burden of twelve hours per week of tutorial teaching and redirect valuable time into research as the key factor in achieving the plaudits of a successful academic career? Is the Tutorial a sacred cow to which Oxford pays mere lip-service as it quietly shifts to ‘small group teaching’?
Or is it a pedagogical gem, the jewel in Oxford’s crown, to be preserved at all costs as the best way to challenge, stimulate and truly educate Oxford’s high-quality ‘young’ in the crucial ‘lifelong-learning’ skill of sound analysis and critical thinking? If Oxford lets the Tutorial wither, will it be failing future generations of talented undergraduates who need the intensity of the demanding tutorial teaching methodology to ensure their intellectual resources best serve them in their careers and in turn Society? Moreover, how does the Oxford Tutorial fit with the concept of a Liberal Education, and anyway just what is higher education?
This little book brings together experienced Oxford Dons from across the academic disciplines who discuss their personal belief in and commitment to the Tutorial as an utterly essential element in all Oxford’s degree subjects. It is hoped that students new to Oxford will find these essays helpful in sharing with them, as ‘the consumers’, what the Dons, as ‘the producers’, are trying to achieve, while stressing that the whole process is both ‘a team effort’ and also one that is not fixed in format since it allows tutor and tutee to vary the nature of the Tutorial to optimal effect. Thus, it can be at the same time a process which falls apart if either undergraduate or teacher short-changes the tutorial experience. Yet, as the sometime President of Magdalen College, Oxford, noted when reviewing the 2001 first edition of this book in the Times Higher (13/9/02, p 23): ‘the tutorial is renewed, flexible, dynamic and popular’ (and he added, ‘even though this news often appears unwelcome to our national educational bureaucracy’!).
The sub-title (‘Thanks, you taught me how to think’) comes from a former student writing to one of our Contributors after achieving a good degree result. An American student similarly wrote to me: ‘You taught me how to not only research and support my arguments but also how to present them and respond to questions thoroughly and thoughtfully… It’s funny, I often think of the book you handed me to read on the day of our initial meeting and the boy who said ‘thank you, you taught me how to think.’ I couldn’t agree more. The Oxford tutorial system… was without question the most academically and personally enriching experience of my life. Thank you’.
The Editor and the Contributors are grateful to Blackwell’s, the justly world-famous landmark Oxford bookshop since 1879, for support in the production and distribution of the 2001 first edition and again for the 2008 second edition of this book, which pays due tribute to another special feature of Oxford in the form of the tutorial as the trademark of the University and its colleges. We are also pleased that this Oxford book has been printed by the Alden Group as another historic local business dating from 1832.

    1. CONTENTS

1. Higher Education, Liberal Education, Critical-thinking, Academic Discourse, and the Oxford Tutorial as Sacred Cow or Pedagogical Gem



David Palfreyman, MA MBA LLB FRSA, Bursar, New College, and Director of OxCHEPS

2. A Liberal Education: and that includes the Sciences!



Alan Ryan, MA D.Litt. FBA, Warden, New College

3. Teaching Law, Learning Law: Growing Up Intellectually



Peter Mirfield, BCL MA, Fellow in Law, Jesus College

4. Modern Linguists as Multi-taskers



Roger Pearson, MA D.Phil., Fellow in French, Queen’s College

5. Evolution in Biology Tutoring?

Richard Dawkins, MA D.Phil. D.Sc. FRS, Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, University of Oxford, and Professorial Fellow, New College

6. Tutorials in Greats and History: The Socratic Method



Robin Lane Fox, MA, Fellow in Ancient History, New College

7. Engineering the Tutorial Experience



Penny Probert Smith, MA D.Phil., Fellow in Engineering, Lady Margaret Hall

8. English: A Shared Enterprise



Emma Smith, BA D.Phil., Fellow in English, Hertford College

9. Perfection in Politics and Philosophy



Alan Ryan, MA D.Litt. FBA, Warden, and formerly Fellow in Politics, New

College

10. Tutorial Teaching in Economics



Richard Mash, MA M.Phil. D.Phil., Fellow in Economics, New College

11. The History Tutorial: ‘You have taught yourself this term’



Christopher Tyerman, MA D.Phil. FRHistS, Fellow in History, Hertford College

12. The Oxford Tutorial in the Context of Theory on Student Learning:

‘Knowledge is a wild thing, and must be hunted before it can be tamed’

        1. Suzanne Shale, MA, sometime Director, Institute for the Advancement of University Learning, University of Oxford, and sometime Fellow in Law, New College


13. Been there; Got the T-shirt: The perspective of a recent survivor of the

tutorial system…

Andrew Smith, MA D.Phil., sometime Weston Junior Research Fellow in Chemistry, New College



14. The Oxford Tutorial: The Students’ Perspective



James Clark, MA D.Phil., sometime Fellow in Medieval History, Brasenose College
15. Reflections of an early-career Tutor

James Panton, MA MSc MPhil, sometime Lecturer in Politics, St John’s College

16. ‘Of Studies in a University’



A.H. Smith, MA CBE, sometime Warden, New College

English translation of the Preface to the 2008 Chinese edition published by Peking University Press

A Note on OxCHEPS

A Note on obtaining this book, in-print and on-line



1. Higher Education, Liberal Education, Critical-Thinking, Academic Discourse, and the Oxford Tutorial as Sacred Cow or Pedagogical Gem

David Palfreyman, Bursar & Fellow, New College, and Director of OxCHEPS


Introduction
This Chapter explores the concept of ‘higher education’: just what happens in higher education and in universities that is indeed higher and hence different from what happens in other parts of education (schools and further/tertiary/adult education)? It suggests that higher education crucially means ‘a liberal education’, and goes on to give a selection of comments on the concept of ‘liberal arts’ and ‘liberal education’ drawn from a range of authors. The Chapter also reviews the potential conflict between the provision of liberal education and ‘vocational education’ within higher education, and whether the former can be incorporated into the latter – and indeed must be if the vocational education that takes place inside a university is deserving of the label higher education. This Chapter then explores the Oxford Tutorial as a means of delivering liberal education, itself as a process of developing critical-thinking within the context of a specialised, usually single-honours degree course – and hence not to be confused with the concept of ‘general education’ as the offering of a broad and mind-broadening curriculum that may well also lead to the development of critical-thinking and thus amount to a liberal education where that curriculum is taught appropriately and with adequate opportunity for the student to engage in ‘academic discourse’. The Chapter concludes with a call for UK universities to rediscover the importance and value of liberal education by making amends for the short-changing of undergraduate teaching that has occurred as, over the past twenty years, the staff: student ratio has worsened and students have been steadily denied the chance properly and fully to engage in academic discourse.

What is higher about ‘higher education’?
The first part of this Chapter asks what is higher about ‘higher education’. Here are some thoughts…
Does higher education matter? What happens in higher education that does not

happen in primary/secondary education (or in what was once called elementary

education), nor in further education? Or is higher not labelling the qualitative aspect

of the educational process, but merely means tertiary? If what goes on in HEIs is

narrowly vocational in terms of teaching only ‘skills’ or merely involves the

memorising of lecture handouts (rather than, say, also accessing books and journal

articles) for regurgitation in simplistic computer-marked class-tests (rather than, say,

the writing of essays - on which proper feedback, face-to-face, is given - and any

other involvement in an academic discourse - within, say, seminars of up to 10/12 –

and not 20/25 which can not possibly function as a practical forum for discussion),

then arguably HE becomes the continuation of school: it is indeed tertiary, not higher

(one might label it also as adult education).




Higher education, in whatever subject, is the development of the individual’s

communication and critical facilities (synthesis/analysis/expression) over and beyond

what would have happened by the person simply getting to be 3 or 4 years older while

in HE, over and beyond what comes with maturing from an 18-year old school-leaver

into a 22-year old graduate employee. And over and beyond any knowledge corpus

imparted in the degree course: the key feature is an ability to learn how to update this

corpus that will unavoidably become dated. And over and above any technical skills

also imparted in the degree course: higher education is again about knowing when and

how to update those skills. Higher education is not ‘schooling’ for adults. Higher

education is the development of critical-thinking through the process of liberal

education.
Higher education is about preparing people for life-long learning and career

retreading, for a life-time contribution to Society as an educated Citizen (not merely

to the Economy as a Trained Worker with Skills). As such higher education is liberal

education and goes beyond vocational education as something that is also worthy but

whose remit is ‘merely’ to impart specific knowledge and particular skills for a

defined job (plumber, hairdresser) or a predetermined career (accountancy technician,

the banking exams). Higher education is not ‘training’.
Higher education may be the starting point to a route for a set career (usually called a

profession, or once a vocation (calling) – for example, medicine and the law). But it is

meant to produce the reflective practitioner within such professions – the person who

thinks critically about the practice of medicine or the law, who knows when and how

to professionally update. (Indeed, one might have an element of liberal education

within even an obviously vocational area –one might offer plumber training in such a

way as to create ‘the reflective plumber’ rather than ‘plumbing-by-numbers’.)
Admittedly, in the USA that element of the HEI involvement in the creation of medics

and lawyers is left to graduate school following on from an undergraduate ‘general

education’ or ‘liberal arts education’. In the UK, in contrast, we sell law as a cheap

undergraduate degree and let trainee medics loose on patients at 19/20 rather than

23/24 as in ‘Scrubs’ or ‘ER’! And therein lies a problem – countries vary so widely in

the concept of what is a degree and how long it takes to earn one, in how teaching is

delivered and in how much is offered within a degree course, in how academic

performance is assessed, in deciding what is quality in the teaching and learning

package, and in determining what is ‘graduateness’ or what is fitness for purpose

about higher education. US students, for example, major and minor within general

undergraduate education; UK students follow a highly specialised single-honours

degree course; the major continental European HE systems are somewhere between

and, like the USA, take longer (while even within the UK there are differences: in England and Wales a degree course is typically three years, but four in Scotland).
Given such variation it is really rather difficult to see HE as really and demonstrably

mattering in terms of promoting economic progress, as opposed to good citizenship

within a liberal social democracy political model - unless one views its contribution to

Human Capital as the development of clear communication and critical-thinking as

referred to above, these being the economic value of liberal education. If it was so

truly crucial in skills/vocational terms and as training for employment, one might

expect HE systems in OECD countries to be more alike than they actually are as,

within a global economy, they converged to match the very similar economic

pressures faced by each nation. And hence, if one places the stress on such ‘learning

outcomes’ from a first degree, then, arguably, the massification of UK HE ‘on the

cheap’ (the unit of resource in terms of the cash to fund a year of undergraduate

teaching declines over the past two decades by c40% as the student numbers double)

and the resultant decline in the staff: student ratio means less teaching, less

assessment, and very much less chance for the student properly to engage in the

academic discourse. Have the ‘learning outcomes’ goalposts been relocated to match

reduced resources (a process of dumbing-down)? Or are the expectations the same

and similar outputs are achieved, despite scaled-back inputs, because the productivity

of teaching and learning increases – perhaps at the expense of over-working and

‘stressing-out’ academics?
If the former, this means higher education becomes less higher and more tertiary as it

shifts from a pedagogical emphasis on liberal education to a skills/curriculum

dominated agenda. Ironically, Government praises such a shift as HEIs become more

‘accountable’ and ‘relevant’ to ‘the world of work’: in fact, the shift may be an

apparent short-term gain at the expense of the longer-term benefit once got from

higher education for Society and the Economy (see Moodie, 2008 forthcoming, for a comparative international analysis: liberal market economics need liberal education that better prepares graduates for rapidly changing economic conditions and related employment opportunities).
So back to the first paragraph of this section, does higher education matter? It

probably matters less for the Economy than we in the HE industry tend to argue and

than our Government paymasters like to think as they see HE through the narrow

perspective of Human Capital Theory (the real economic value of HE may be rather

more via research and technology transfer than via HCT in terms of mass

undergraduate education – see Elhanan Helpman, ‘The Mystery of Economic

Growth’, 2004). It certainly matters in the old fashioned sense of a public service for a

bettering of Society, but that line of argument has not opened the Treasury money-box

since the 1970s (and hence we in the HE ‘industry’ are defeatist and defensive in

trying to justify our taxpayer-funding only in terms of the perceived/supposed

economic value of HE). HE is without doubt both a positional good (credentialism in

the job market) and also a consumption good (a rite of passage for the young within a

rich nation that can afford to tie up the productivity capacity of half its young people

in their ‘benefiting’ from (and, increasingly, paying for) HE until 25/26 – school to

18, a gap year, a 3/4year undergraduate degree, another gap year, a taught Masters

because just everyone has a BA/BSc degree these days…). If higher education really

is higher, it matters; if it is tertiary education, most of it should be delivered more

efficiently and more economically by private commercial/for-profit providers

(Phoenix, Kaplan, and others), through distance-learning, and as ‘foundation degrees’

taught in modest low-cost public institutions (today’s FE colleges), with no nonsense

about a link between active research and good teaching. Higher education matters

only if it is liberal education that teaches people to think critically and reflectively.


And all of this stress on the broad values of liberal education (including its long-term economic benefit to both students and society) is, of course, heresy in the Brave New World of such quangoes as the Sector Skills Development Agency and in the context of the 2007 Leitch Report demanding that HE ‘give employers more power’ over the university curriculum, where the emphasis is to be on ‘the vocational relevance of qualifications’, ‘employability skills’, and ‘economically valuable skills’ that will enable UK plc to ‘upskill big time and in quick time’ (see Times Higher, 14/12/07, p 13 for the source of this depressingly simplistic jargon): we will end up with ‘the training university’ as a UK version of the US community college!
What is ‘Liberal Education’?
The second part of this Chapter considers what various authors have said about liberal education…
Allan Bloom on ‘the adventure of a liberal education’, as ‘the charmed years’ at

university which give ‘the student the sense that learning must and can be both

synoptic and precise’ and which ‘feeds the student’s love of truth and passion to live a

good life’. (‘The Closing of the American Mind’, 1987, pp 336-347.)


Gordon Graham on ‘the distinguishing mark of liberal arts and pure sciences’ as

being ‘to enrich the mind’ as in turn where ‘the rationale of university education

properly so called lies’ and where ‘liberal education embellishes the technical and

technological to create the professional’ in subjects such as law, medicine and

engineering. (‘Universities: The Recovery of an Idea’, 2002, pp 40-45.)
Michael Oakeshott on ‘liberal learning’ as ‘learning to respond to the invitations of

the great intellectual adventures in which human beings have come to display their

various understandings of the world and of themselves’ – ‘the invitation to

disentangle oneself, for a time, from the urgencies of the here and now and to listen to

the conversation in which human beings forever seek to understand themselves’. And

this activity or process takes place in a university as a place where the undergraduate

‘has the opportunity of education in conversation with his teachers, his fellows and

himself’ and where such education there is ‘the gift of an interval’ in that person’s life

during which ‘to taste the mystery without the necessity of at once seeking a

solution’. If successful, the university education puts its recipient-participant ‘beyond

the reach of the intellectual hooligan’ and will mean the graduate has ‘learned

something to help him lead a more significant life’ by extending ‘the range of his

moral sensibility’ and by replacing ‘the clamorous and conflicting absolutes of

adolescence with something less corruptible’. University teaching is not about ‘mere

instruction’. Oakeshott warns: ‘A university will have ceased to exist when its learning has degenerated into what is now called research, when its teaching has become mere instruction and occupies the whole of an undergraduate’s time, and when those who came to be taught come, not in search of their intellectual fortune but with a vitality so unroused or so exhausted that they wish only to be provided with a serviceable moral and intellectual outfit; when they come with no understanding of the manners of conversation but desire only a qualification for earning a living or a certificate to let them in on the exploitation of the world’. (‘The Voice of Liberal Learning: Michael Oakeshott on Education’, edited by Timothy Fuller, 1989.)
Cardinal Newman and ‘The Idea of a University’ (1852): the role of the University

is to train minds (‘a real cultivation of mind’), to inculcate ‘the force, the steadiness,

the comprehensiveness and the versatility of intellect, the command over our own

powers, the instinctive first estimate of things as they pass before us’, to ensure its

graduates possess ‘a connected view or grasp or things; and are intellectually

methodical in pursuing ‘intellectual excellence’. Thus: ‘A habit of mind is formed

which lasts throughout life of which the attributes are freedom, equitableness,

calmness, moderation, and wisdom… a philosophical habit’. And the purpose of ‘a

Liberal Education is not mere knowledge’, ‘not Learning or Acquirement, but rather,

is Thought or Reason exercised upon Knowledge, or what may be called Philosophy’.

Nor is ‘a Liberal Education ‘about the intellect being formed or sacrificed to some

particular or accidental purpose, some specific trade or profession’; it is about the

intellect being ‘disciplined for its own sake, for the perception of its own proper

object, and for its own highest culture’ (and the creation of ‘a healthy intellect’). Such

‘training of the intellect’ not only is ‘best for the individual himself’ but also ‘best

enables him to discharge his duties to society’; it is the ‘training of good members of

society’, it is ‘fitness for the world’, it aimed at ‘raising the intellectual tone of

society, at cultivating the public mind’. (From Ian Ker, ‘Newman’s Ideal of a



University’, in David Smith & Anna Karin Langlow, ‘The Idea of a University’, 1988;

and from Newman himself: see also further extracts from Newman’s text as part of

the Preface to the Chinese edition which is also reprinted in the English edition of this

book.)
Humboldt is usually seen as fostering the research university rather than the Newman

concept of the Liberal Education teaching university. It has been argued, however,

that Humboldt’s 1810 nine page memorandum for the new University of Berlin

contends that, were a university to focus only on meeting the short-term needs of the

State, it would ultimately fail both the State and itself – the vocational approach to

education will have crowded out long-term value. Moreover, it has been suggested

that Humboldt would promote ‘Education based on Scholarship’, seeing the

difference between school and university, between primary/secondary education and

higher education, as being that the former is about teaching already accepted and

conventional knowledge while the latter’s concept of scholarship is all about the

frontiers of knowledge and concentration on problems that are not yet solved: ‘the

teacher is then not there for the sake of the student, but both have their justification in

the service of scholarship’ (from Humboldt’s 1810 note). This Bildung durch

Wissenschaft approach within higher education applies equally to university research



and to undergraduate teaching.
And while in the nineteenth century, consider John Stuart Mill discussing the

purpose of universities when becoming Rector of St Andrew’s University in 1867:

‘They [universities] are not intended to teach the knowledge required to fit men for

some special mode of gaining their livelihood. Their object is not to make skilful

lawyers or physicians, but capable and cultivated human beings… Education makes a

man a more intelligent shoemaker, but not by teaching him how to make shoes: it

does so by the mental exercise it gives.’
Leo Strauss defined liberal education as ‘a counterpoison to mass culture’; as ‘a training in the highest forms of modesty, not to say of humility’; yet also it demands ‘a boldness implied in the resolve to regard the accepted views as mere opinions’: in essence, ‘Liberal education is liberation from vulgarity’. (‘Academic Questions’, 17 (Winter, 2003/04), 31-36: reprinting a 1959 address at the University of Chicago.)
A.N. Whitehead on ‘the justification for a university’ as an entity that ‘preserves the

connection between knowledge and the zest of life, by inviting the young and the old

in the imaginative consideration of learning’. Thus, the university imparts

information, but it does go ‘imaginatively’: ‘Fools act on imagination without

knowledge; pedants act on knowledge without imagination. The task of a university is

to weld together imagination and experience’. The undergraduate gets space and time,

is ‘free to think rightly and wrongly, and free to appreciate the variousness of the

universe undisturbed by its perils’. The university imparts ‘the imaginative acquisition

of knowledge… A university is imaginative or it is nothing – at least nothing useful’.

And: ‘The learned and imaginative life is a way of living, and is not an article of

commerce’. Moreover, ‘it is quite easy to produce a faculty [academic labour force]

entirely unfit – a faculty of very efficient pedants and dullards. The general public

will only detect the difference after the university has stunted the promise of youth for

scores of years’! Hence a real university is not to be managed as if it were ‘a business

organisation’: ‘the heart of the matter lies beyond all regulation’. (‘The Aims of

Education and Other Essays’, 1932, Chapter VII.)


Alan Ryan: in liberal education ‘the liberal ideal is political; it looks to the creation

of good citizens, and in embracing liberal education as a means to an end, it looks to

the education of autonomous, argumentative, and tough-minded individuals as the

safest and best way of creating good liberal citizens’ (and over and beyond also

producing citizens ‘able to survive economically’). Moreover, ‘liberal education is

defined less by its content than by its purpose: the provision of a general intellectual

training. This plainly requires a nice balance between the absorption of information

and the acquisition of the appropriate skills to use this information… a liberal

education ought to inculcate both a respect for facts and some scepticism about the

reliability of what is commonly taken to be fact’. Ryan later adds, in discussing

campus academic free speech and political correctness: ‘If you don’t like having your

beliefs questioned, don’t go to college…’. (‘Liberal Anxieties and Liberal

Education’, 1998.)
Alan Ryan again: ‘A liberal education is not of its nature non-vocational… Recent

governments have become obsessed with transferable skills; a liberal education

provides them under another name, and always has done… the ability to read exactly

and absorb information swiftly… the ability to speak and write coherently and

directly… the ability to see the implications of numerical data and to elicit them from

different presentations… [all of which is an education] that provides a broad-gauge

capacity for employment’. But, at the same time, liberal education gives ‘the strongest

possible sense that the world is genuinely there to be enjoyed… liberal education is an

education in intellectual freedom [that also imbues] a respect for scholarship’. (‘A

Liberal Education: and that includes the Sciences!’, the next Chapter in this book…)


George Turnbull (‘Observations upon Liberal Education’, 1742) is the Scottish Enlightenment’s version of John Locke’s ‘Some Thoughts Concerning Education’ (1693) and Rousseau’s ‘Emile, or On Education’. The emphasis is on reforming schools (changes in the teaching style and a much broader curriculum) so as to educate children in a way that inculcates the personal moral responsibility of ‘Young Gentlemen’ for living properly within a free society that has an appropriate ‘love of liberty’ as ‘a passion that ought not to be crushed but cherished’, with ‘youth’ being duly ‘warned and armed against the vices and snares with which they will find the world to abound as soon as they enter upon it’. Turnbull praises ‘The Socratic method of teaching’ where the young are encouraged ‘in finding out truths by themselves’: ‘… teachers of youth must not trust entirely to their grave and formal lectures, but take frequent opportunities of instructing their pupils by conversation… by leading them to ask questions… by acting the midwife to their thoughts… Youth, whatever science [subject, discipline] they are taught, ought to be inured to speak out what they have learned, not by rote, in consequence of serviley mandating what they have read, but easily and in their own words, from their judgements and not from their memories…’. Turnbull ranks the development of ‘judgements’ and ‘inventions’ (innovative thinking) well above ‘memories’ (rote learning). Thus, for Turnbull, liberal education inculcates ‘the character of the deliberate judicious man… the considerate temper, or the habit of comparing and computing… patience of thinking, or the deliberative habit… an attentive thinking habit… the habit of deliberating and computing… virtue or strength of mind… habit of acting with judgement..’: and all of this leaves the properly educated individual ‘able to resist all the most inviting specious promises and solicitations of objects til their pretensions have been thoroughly tried and canvassed’.
Obadiah Walker (‘Of Education, especially of Young Gentlemen’, 1673) commends judgement ‘which subtilly compareth, and accurately discerns between things that are like… the deliberate weighing and comparing of one subject, one appearance, one reason, with another; thereby to discern and chuse true from false, good from bad, and more true and good from lesser…’. It is crucial also ‘to discourse pertinently and rationally’ in a way that ‘brings a question to a point, and discovers the very center and knot of the difficulty… [that] warms and activates the spirit in the search of truth, excites notions’. Moreover, true learning is not about ‘memory’ but is about the ability ‘to digest what is read, and to be able to know where a difficulty lies, and how to solve it… [to] discourse, doubt, argue upon and against…’.
William Baldwin & Thomas Palfreyman in a section entitled ‘Of learning and knowledge’ from their ‘A treatyce on morall philosophy’ (1575) offer a reference to Socrates seeing himself as ‘a midwife’, as bringing out or bringing forth wisdom through education as a process of drawing out rather than filling up the mind; they also quote Senaca: ‘Searche for the cause of everythinge’ and ‘An opinion wythoute learnynge cannot be good’. Plato is cited: ‘As a captaine is a director of an whole boate, so reason joyned with knowledge, is the guide of life’.
Paul Axelrod: (‘Values in Conflict: The University, the Marketplace, and the Trials

of Liberal Education’, 2002): ‘liberal education in the university refers to activities

that are designed to cultivate intellectual creativity, autonomy, and resilience; critical

thinking; a combination of intellectual breadth and specialised knowledge; the

comprehension of tolerance of diverse ideas and experiences; informal participation in

community life; and effective communication skills’.


Abraham Flexner: ‘The sort of easy rubbish which may be counted towards an A.B

degree or the so-called combined degrees passes the limits of credibility. Education –

college education, liberal education, call it what you will – should, one might

suppose, concern itself primarily during adolescence and early manhood and

womanhood with the liberation, organisation, and direction of power and intelligence,

with the development of taste, with culture [original emphasis]...’ (‘Universities:

American, English, German’, 1930.)
Jorge Dominguez: ‘a liberal education is what remains after you have forgotten the

facts that were learned while becoming educated’. (Dominguez, paraphrasing

Whitehead (see above) and himself paraphrased by Harry Lewis, ‘Excellence Without

a Soul: How a Great University [Harvard] forgot Education’, 2006, p. xiv.)


Leon Botstein on US undergraduate education as ‘the last link in the chain of general

education, where the purposes of education legitimately reach beyond the narrow but

crucial objective of preparing a young person for work and employment.

Undergraduate vocational programmes fail to capitalize on this opportunity and spend

too much time in technical training that quickly becomes obsolete… [when what is

needed is courses that] are not narrowly utilitarian and stress skills of reasoning and

inquiry that emerge from an encounter with discrete fields of study… Learning for its

own sake is the best preparation for functioning competitively and creatively…’.

(‘Jefferson’s Children’, 1997.)
Derek Bok: ‘As time goes by, the technical and practical skills that vocational majors

learn in college become less important to continued success [in the workplace]. Such

abilities as communication skills, human relations, creativity, and ‘big picture

thinking’ matter more. Since liberal arts faculties appear to do a better job than their

vocational colleagues in fostering these qualities, graduates with traditional Arts and

Sciences majors begin to gain ground…’. And the corporate world faces ‘faster

change, more frequent career shifts, increasingly diverse workforces, and expending

global operations, all of which favour a broad liberal arts education’. (‘Our

Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why

They Should Be Learning More’, 2006.)


George Fallis (‘Multiversities, Ideas, and Democracy’, 2007): ‘For Socrates, liberal

learning emerged through sceptical questioning, through the application of reason,

and through dialogue. All our knowledge, all our ways of seeing and of doing, both

individual and collective, should be subjected to the scrutiny of reason. Through civil

dialogue, question-and-answer, give-and-take, true knowledge emerges. Students

should challenge orthodoxy and tradition; students should not accept thoughts, rather

they should have responsibility for their thoughts.’ Fallis also laments the neglect of

undergraduate education within the modern university, and especially where the

emphasis on research drives out a commitment to teaching: ‘The urgent task for the

multiversity is to renew its commitment to liberal education’. He calls for the modern sprawling university (‘the multiversity’) to reverse the trend for ‘the research mission’ to devalue or even eclipse the teaching of undergraduates (‘the low priority given to undergraduate study’), noting how once undergraduate education had indeed been ‘the central task’ or ‘the pre-eminent task’ as represented by the concept of the Oxford college living on ‘in the Anglo-American imagination, elusively telling us what an undergraduate education ought to be… as a benchmark in Anglo-American discussions of undergraduate learning’. And that such ‘undergraduate learning’ must take the form of ‘liberal learning’ defined as ‘not so much about the subjects studied, as it is about the spirit in which the study is conducted’ (liberal education as a pedagogical process rather than liberal education or general education as a curriculum: ‘Any curriculum can be a liberal education, provided the study is done in the proper spirit’). Fallis quotes a fellow Canadian, Paul Axelrod (see above), and notes that this process of liberal education amounts to what Newman in discussing the value of knowledge for its own sake saw as ‘fitness for the world’. (Fallis also cites Bruce Kimball, ‘Orators and Philosophers: A History of the Idea of Liberal Education’, 1986.)


Francis Oakley (‘Community of Learning: The American College and the Liberal

Arts Tradition’, 1992): noting the critics of US HE and their concerns over ‘a

debilitating balkanisation of studies in the humanities and social sciences, a ragged

retreat into a congeries of competing (and often aggressively ideological)

particularisms, an abandonment of the high ground of disinterested universalism’,

Oakley, in contrast, is optimistic about ‘the strong scholarly fibre, the intellectual

confidence, and the pedagogic integrity’ of academics teaching at the US liberal arts

colleges and universities, while still seeing the liberal arts tradition as potentially

threatened by ‘the vogue of tight academic specialisation’ and ‘the comparative

incoherence of the typical undergraduate course of study today’. In defence of a

liberal education, Oakley concludes: ‘… one must question the adequacy of

educational approaches that are willing to sacrifice to short-term vocational advantage

the age-old struggle for some breadth of intellectual perspective and the attainment of

interpretative depth. For there can be no real coping without some richness of

understanding. There can be, that is, no ultimately [original emphasis] practical

preparation for living if it leaves one bereft of the wherewithal to comprehend one’s

situation from a vantage point less partial and a perspective less impoverished than

that afforded by the task-oriented, means-end, functional rationality at which we so

excel, which accounts for so many of our modern achievements, and which has come

to dominate so very much of our day to day lives.’


Martha C. Nussbaum, (‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defence of Reform

in Liberal Education’, 1997): liberal education ‘liberates the mind from the bondage

of habit and custom, producing people who can function with sensitivity as citizens of

the whole world… [who have] the ability to think what it might be like to be in the

shoes of a person different from oneself, to be an intelligent reader of that person’s

story, and to understand the emotions and wishes and desires that someone so placed

might have’.
Ron Barnett (‘The Idea of Higher Education’, 1990): Barnett seeks ‘to restore the

liberal idea of higher education’ though what he terms ‘the emancipatory concept of

higher education’ that focuses on ‘understanding, self-reflection and self-appraisal’,

on why rather than merely what, on an academic dialogue rather than vocational



technique, on reflection rather than simply action, on an educational process that

stresses ‘the opportunities for self-expression and critical self-reflection in dialogue

with others’ rather than the student experience being the passive receipt of instruction

so that students are recognised ‘as centres of consciousness’ and as participants in a

‘communicative’ dialogue that, crucially, develops the student’s ‘critical abilities’.

Thus, Higher Education is a process of ‘cognitive self-empowerment’ as the student

reaches ‘a state of intellectual independence’, but such a liberal education view of HE

is threatened by ‘the double undermining’ of ‘an undue disciplinary narrowness’

within the university and externally in the wider society by ‘the narrowness of an

industry-led competence-based curriculum’. Higher Education is long-term

‘liberation’ not short-term instrumentalism if it deserves to be higher education: as

Barnett comments, ‘An educational process can be termed higher education when the

student is carried on to levels of reasoning which make possible critical reflection on

his or her experiences… These levels of reasoning and reflection are ‘higher’, because

they enable the student to take a view (from above, as it were) of what has been

learned. Simply, ‘higher education’ resides in the higher-order states of mind.’ Hence

also, ‘An institution of higher education justifies the title [only] when it fosters

educational processes of the appropriate kind’ – ‘a deep understanding’ of a

knowledge area; ‘a radical critique’ of that area; ‘a developing competence to

conduct that critique in the company of others’; an element of independent inquiry by

way of ‘involvement in determining the shape and direction of that critique’; self-

reflection’, ‘self-insight’ and ‘self-evaluation’ as the student critically assesses his/her

educational progress; and scope for the student ‘to engage in that inquiry in a process

of open dialogue and cooperation’. In short, higher education is not ‘a sub-set of

general educational ideas’, nor is it further education in the sense of ‘simply more of

what has gone before’; it is higher education only when ‘additional processes’ take

place over and above education, processes that are ‘special’ in terms of both what

happens and how, and also in terms of their value to the personal development of the

student and to Society (including the Economy) through ‘sharing a common but

critical discourse over ends, values and achievements’ within a rational society. And

so Barnett neatly takes us full circle back to the earlier section of this Chapter and the

question of what is higher about ‘higher education’…


The US Webster’s Dictionary gives us: ‘liberal arts – the studies (as language,

philosophy, mathematics, history, literature, or abstract science) in a college or

university intended to provide chiefly general knowledge and to develop the general

intellectual capacities’ (cf ‘vocational – concerned with choice of or training in a skill

or trade to be pursued as a career’).
The Oxford English Dictionary provides us with: ‘liberal – Originally, the

distinctive epithet of those ‘arts’ or ‘sciences’ that were considered ‘worthy of a free

man’; opposed to servile or mechanical… Directed to general intellectual enlargement

and refinement; not narrowly restricted to the requirements of technical or

professional training’ (cf ‘vocational - Of, pertaining or relating to, a vocation or

occupation’ – citing ‘1979 Yale Alumni Mag. Apr 12/2 Of all the areas in colleges and

universities that will feel… the growing vocationalism of the young, the humanities

will be hardest hit…’).


It will be appreciated that a couple of these gobbets date from as early as the seventeenth-century (Walker, 1673) or even earlier (Baldwin & Palfreyman, 1575): these beginnings of the Oxford Tutorial are explored by M. Feingold (‘The Humanities’ in N. Tyacke, ‘The History of the University of Oxford: Volume IV, Seventeenth-Century Oxford’, 1997) who argues that a more wide-ranging and free-thinking humanistic undergraduate curriculum replaced the over-systematised rigidity of medieval scholasticism, and that the Oxford tutor evolved as ‘more to guide and supervise than to teach… the tutor assumed the role of director of studies, overseeing the [student’s] more or less independent consolidation of higher-level skills’. He cites Richard Holdsworth’s early-seventeenth century directions to undergraduates: ‘you will finde more content, and better retain that which you get out of your own industrie, than which you receive from your tutor’. Thus, the concept developed that the BA taught students how to learn for themselves, and they then ‘earned’ the MA over another three years or so by continuing with their self-directed studies: as Feingold puts it, ‘establishing early the habit of independent study as the key to a lifetime of learning’. But also, from Holdsworth and other seventeenth-century ‘guides’ to undergraduate study cited by Feingold, it is clear that the Oxford undergraduate had first to properly understand before tentatively evaluating, that the student was to be led through knowledge and learning before reaching judgement – here one is struck by the Confucian emphasis on understanding before evaluating discussed in the Preface to the Chinese edition of this text.


The Oxford Tutorial: Sacred Cow or Pedagogical Gem?
What an Oxford tutor does is to get a little group of students together and smoke at them. Men who have been systematically smoked at for four years turn into ripe scholars… A well-smoked man speaks and writes English with a grace that can be acquired in no other way.
Stephen Leacock, My Discovery of England (1921)
The best tutorials are like ‘Newsnight’ with the tutor as Paxman.
A 1990s Oxford Undergraduate (see Chapter 13)

The Oxford Tutorial has an almost mystic, cult status. It is Oxford’s ‘premium product’ for which, via college academic fees, it commands ‘a premium price’. But the Tutorial has its critics, both within and beyond Oxford. Is it an anachronism in the mass higher education system of the twenty-first century? Is the traditional tutoring of Oxford’s undergraduates now too labour intensive and too expensive a burden for the University and its colleges as State funding of higher education declines? Do the dons want to escape the heavy burden of twelve hours per week of tutorial teaching and redirect valuable time into research as the key factor in achieving the plaudits of a successful academic career? Is the Tutorial a sacred cow to which Oxford pays mere lip-service as it quietly shifts to ‘small group teaching’?


Or is it a pedagogical gem, the jewel in Oxford’s crown, to be preserved at all costs as the best way to challenge, stimulate and truly educate Oxford’s high-quality ‘young’ in the crucial ‘lifelong-learning’ skill of sound analysis and critical thinking? If Oxford lets the Tutorial wither, will it be failing future generations of talented undergraduates who need the intensity of the demanding tutorial teaching methodology to ensure their intellectual resources best serve them in their careers and in turn Society? Moreover, how does the Oxford Tutorial fit with the concept of a Liberal Education, and anyway just what is higher education?
This little book brings together experienced Oxford Dons from across the academic disciplines who discuss their personal belief in and commitment to the Tutorial as an utterly essential element in all Oxford’s degree subjects. It is hoped that students new to Oxford will find these essays helpful in sharing with them, as ‘the consumers’, what the Dons, as ‘the producers’, are trying to achieve, while stressing that the whole process is both ‘a team effort’ and also one that is not fixed in format since it allows tutor and tutee to vary the nature of the Tutorial to optimal effect. Thus, it can be at the same time a process which falls apart if either undergraduate or teacher short-changes the tutorial experience. Yet, as the sometime President of Magdalen College, Oxford, noted when reviewing the 2001 first edition of this book in the Times Higher (13/9/02, p 23): ‘the tutorial is renewed, flexible, dynamic and popular’ (and he added, ‘even though this news often appears unwelcome to our national educational bureaucracy’!).
The sub-title (‘Thanks, you taught me how to think’) comes from a former student writing to one of our Contributors after achieving a good degree result. An American student similarly wrote to me: ‘You taught me how to not only research and support my arguments but also how to present them and respond to questions thoroughly and thoughtfully… It’s funny, I often think of the book you handed me to read on the day of our initial meeting and the boy who said ‘thank you, you taught me how to think.’ I couldn’t agree more. The Oxford tutorial system… was without question the most academically and personally enriching experience of my life. Thank you’.
And another American (Mallinson, 1941) commented way back: ‘The pupil has the advantage of intimate contact with a good mind and a greater wisdom than his own. The tutorial prevents him from following false and valueless trails, from being overimpressed by big names and the printed word. It teaches him to examine evidence and to think for himself. When he leaves Oxford, he is probably less stuffed with facts than the graduate of any European or American University, but he should have cultivated what is the greatest essential of these times: the critical spirit. No system has ever been devised which can develop this faculty better than the Oxford tutorial. There are plenty of critics of this Oxford method, but there exists nothing else like it for discouraging authorisation and docility in learning.’ The very special nature of the Oxford tutorial has attracted more recent attention in the USA, being the focus of a conference for Liberal Arts colleges on Liberal Education held at Lawrence University (Wisconsin) in 2007 and one on critical-thinking due in 2008 (as it happens here at New College in Oxford: www.criticalthinking.org); and also in China where I gave a Paper on Liberal Education at the 2007 Beijing Forum (and subsequently Peking University Press has published a Chinese edition of this text the Preface to which is reprinted in the 2008 English edition).
The Editor and the Contributors are grateful to Blackwell’s, the justly world-famous landmark Oxford bookshop since 1879, for support in the production and distribution of the 2001 first edition and again for the 2008 second edition of this book, which pays due tribute to another special feature of Oxford in the form of the tutorial as the trademark of the University and its colleges. We are also pleased that this Oxford book has been printed by the Alden Group as another historic local business dating from 1832.





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