In brief

14th November 2003 at 00:00
Lessons of the Masters: the Charles Eliot Norton lectures. By George Steiner. Harvard University Press pound;12.95.

A child, particularly a young one, will commonly speak not of "our teacher" but, proudly, of "my teacher". That hint of a special, possessive relationship is at the heart of these lectures given by George Steiner at Harvard University last year analysing the age-old relationship between the charismatic "master" - examples include Jesus, Socrates, Virgil, Kepler and Heidegger - and the individual pupil.

It's a densely argued book, but in its affirmation of pedagogy it's timely, given current emphasis on how children learn and the growth of "e-learning". In Steiner's words, "To teach seriously is to lay hands on what is most vital in a human being; to seek access to the quick and the innermost of a child's or an adult's integrity."

He goes on: "Bad teaching is, almost literally, murderous and, metaphorically, a sin." True - but readers might take issue with his assessment that such "anti-teaching is statistically close to being the norm." Is there nothing acceptable between charismatic mastery and its murderous opposite?

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