The movie ‘The History Boys’ written by Alan Bennett introduces the importance of the value and meaning of education. Set in the 1980s, after attaining the highest grades their school has ever seen, eight boys are prepared for their Oxbridge examinations although are taught with the contrasting philosophies of their teachers. Each boy through his own individual manner grasps what they feel is crucial from each teacher.
The results driven headmaster hires a young historian (Irwin) who is aware that the key to exam success is the individualism that differentiates a student from all the rest. In his classes, Irwin challenges the boys to express unorthodox views on and interpretations of history forcing them to have original perspectives on historical deductions. Here the boys use the Way of Knowing of reasoning and logical thinking to counteract their beliefs or even commonly held beliefs for example on the Holocaust. As it is such a mournful part of history, another WOK (emotion) is subtly revealed as having a crucial role in thought process.
Even though the topic has so many emotional strings attached to it, Irwin teaches the Holocaust in such a way that the truth and emotion are irrelevant and as a result he poses the question of how learning should take place. Is it with the absolutes of reasoning or emotion? Or with a mindset that includes both? Emotion is less objective than reasoning and it is not factual knowledge that education is so obviously based on. Even though some factual knowledge is required to form an interpretation, the gut feeling from which the interpretations arise are based on personal experience (derived from emotion) and allows students to develop a unique deduction of the topic.
This idea that a blend of rationalism and emotion is needed to teach applies only to certain Areas of Knowledge like History as described above. However this concept must be explored further into other AOKs such as Mathematics and the Arts to better understand the extent to which one must be prioritized over the other. In mathematics, rationalism is virtually the only relevant aspect out of the two. Algebra, Geometry, Calculus, etc. are all solved using logical deductions from mathematical rules or laws rather than from an emotional response.
However, the Arts suggest that emotion holds a greater importance over rationalism. Art is an expression of the self that can be shown through various mediums such as on a canvas, in a sculpture or even in a poem or novel as Hector indicates. In his words, “all knowledge is precious whether or not it serves the slightest human use”. In the movie, Hector often cites poetry or lines from novels to express his thoughts instead of a wordy explanation. In this way, art is very subjective so the way we interpret it is dependent on our personal values and beliefs.
Reasoning and emotion are two very vital parts of teaching. Irwin’s teachings indicate reasoning should dominate the ways in the process of education should take place whilst Hector suggests personal beliefs must matter most when one teaches. However, with these conflicting philosophies in the movie comes the conclusion that both rational thought and emotional response is necessary for a student to fully understand the meaning of whatever subject they may be focused on. This is evident as one cannot be used without the other being imposed.