In our age, when men seem more than ever prone to confuse wisdom with knowledge, and knowledge with information, and to try and solve problems of life in terms of engineering, there is coming into existence a new kind of provincialism which perhaps deserves a new name. It is provincialism, not of space but of time; one for which history is merely the chronicle of human devices which have served their turn and been scrapped, one for which the world is the property solely of the living, a property in which the dead hold no shares.
'What is a classic?’ Presidential address delivered by TS Eliot to the Virgil Society in 1944. Published in his volume of essays entitled On Poets and Poetry, 1957.
In this passage, TS Eliot denounces what he termed temporal provincialism, a phenomenon by which we undervalue past experiences in favour of the present and the instant gratification it promises.
Teachers opposed to the embracing of new technologies and the adoption of modern computer mediated means of communication often use similar arguments against those who propose the transformation of teaching and learning by exploring and exploiting the potential these new technologies may have to offer.
The internet is often criticised by teachers for prizing information over knowledge and for being a capitulation to what they perceive as a lack of academic rigour and preference for immediacy among the current generation of students. Similarly, the use of social networking sites is often disparaged and even vilified for infantilising young people’s brains and reducing their ability to communicate face to face 1, as if social networking were a substitute for face-to-face communication.
Such received wisdom may well be full of common sense, but it is actually unsupported by research and, upon closer scrutiny, it reveals itself to be based on assumption, misunderstanding and preconception. Actual research on the subject suggests that even the humble internet search is a valuable meaning-making activity that supports the acquisition of knowledge, the creation of remote associations and creative development2. And internet searches are just the tip of a very large iceberg of untapped potential.
TS Eliot’s temporal provincialism condemns the overestimation of the present’s importance. However, I would propose that today we suffer from a kind of temporal conservatism, whereby undue relevance is being given to present, more traditional methods of teaching and learning whilst the future potential of promising new technologies is being largely ignored by schools that are blinkered by the here and now.
What do you think?