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New Skills or Natural Human Capacities?

About a year ago a good friend of mine, ancient philosophy scholar, Nicholas Denyer (Trinity College, Cambridge) shared the following photo:




Apart from the fact that the portrayal of the aim of education as being purely to create individuals of economic value was a little troubling in its narrowness, Nicholas’ comment made me smile:


Socratic intellectualism is alive and well and living on the front page of this morning’s Times. Resilience and self-motivation are skills.”


Firstly, yes, time-keeping is an important ‘commercial’ skill, but it is hardly confined to the commercial, business, and entrepreneurial sphere. Secondly, Nicholas’ comment made me even more convinced that we do need to be clear what we mean by skills. The article snippet could be taken to imply that, in classifying resilience and self-motivation as 'skills’, they are actions requiring teaching, like playing a piano or riding bike. The link with Socrates, who certainly displayed great resilience, suggests that they are in fact innate natural qualities of human beings that need to be nurtured, fostered, and practised through education. I further thought about the fine distinction between skills as teachable technical practices versus skills as the practice of honing natural human strengths. Certainly, Socrates believed his method of learning (I avoid teaching, given the great man’s emphatic denial that he ever did this) was about drawing on and drawing out humans’ innate abilities, strengths, and capacity for finding the better side or sides of our nature. And personally, I would class resilience and self-motivation as being part of this process. That they should be part of education, I do not deny; the confidence that derives from guidance and encouragement is essential to building and realising both qualities.


One may give technical tips to help practice these, and preserve resilience and confidence (short term goals, reflection successes). But they do not have a 'technical’ formula.

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