The citations are in the MLA style.
In the debate on education reform, the most controversial perspective is one that calls for no reform. Obviously, the education system could be improved; the only serious debates now are how to reform it and why one method is better than another. The two most controversial conversations currently on the docket are whether morality should be a part of the educational system and whether students should get a broad, general education or a narrow, specified education. These questions come from a difference in philosophical ideals. Increasingly, educators adopt the view that morality is not something that teachers should promote and that a narrow education is more useful. These two positions, however, undermine the whole purpose of education: to shape a virtuous and intelligent populous which can care for itself and lead others.
In the United States especially, the goal of education is to develop moral people. Benjamin Franklin suggested that “[w]ise and good men are... the strength of the state; more so than riches or arms.... [and] that general virtue is more probably to be expected and obtained from the education of youth, than from the exhortation of adult persons” (Federer 240). This country was founded with the trust that schools would continue to promote virtues. However, in the last century, virtue has been undermined in the school system. C. S. Lewis noticed this trend in the middle of the twentieth century in England, a trend which was occurring simultaneously in the United States. In his work The Abolition of Man Lewis uses a book he calls “The Green Book” to illustrate his point (13). He argues that works like The Green Book subvert the work of the educator to inculcate morals. Lewis notes that the way the authors achieve this subversion is not direct: “It is not a theory they put into [the schoolboy’s] mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all” (16-17). The moral nature of education is part of an ancient tradition which has only recently been broken, but the break was so sudden and so surreptitious that it was accepted with little protest; Lewis refers to this tradition as the Tao (29). He indicates that the difference between education into the Tao and modern education is the difference between a bird teaching its young to fly and a poultry keeper developing his chicks for the slaughter (Lewis 32-33). A moral education is necessary for the populous to be able to care for itself; if the education system does not develop morals to live by, the people will not be able to live independently. Someone will have to tell them what to think.
If people are to think for themselves, they had better think well. Uninformed decisions could lead to very dangerous results. However, the problem here is not whether students should be taught, but how. If the students are taught in a narrow, focused education system, then the students will be able to perform better in their jobs or careers. However, if they are trained in a broad, general system, they will be able to make connections that a focused education would not afford. Cardinal Henry Newman approached this dilemma in The Idea of a University. Newman, defending the university against the utilitarian cry for practical education, suggests that a general, or liberal, education holds knowledge as an end in itself rather than a tool as a practical, or servile, education does (524-525). He argues that knowledge “is an object, in its own nature so really and undeniably good, as to be the compensation of a great deal of thought in the compassing, and a great deal of trouble in the attaining” (Newman 524). He later writes that “we are satisfying a direct need of our nature in its very acquisition” (Newman 524). However, Newman insists that knowledge can and does lead to more than itself; his main argument is that it need not, but he agrees that it is useful in attaining other ends as well. With that in mind he argues that the Liberal Arts teach that “which... provides the most robust and invigorating discipline for the uninformed mind” (Newman 537). Yet modern thinkers argue that a practical and focused education would be more beneficial. Even those who argue for a binary system, allowing students to choose which they will pursue, assume that those who will choose the Liberal Arts “don’t have a sense of direction,” implying that the Liberal Arts is a mere failsafe for the students who do not know where they belong in the society (Allitt 594). Patrick Allitt, though well meaning, has fallen for the trap set up centuries ago, that education must bear fruit apart from virtue and knowledge. The idea that “physicists who want only to study physics should be free to do so, without laboring through courses in art history that seem to them a waste of valuable time” is born from the assumption that knowledge itself is not worth the thought it takes to understand, or the time it takes to acquire (Allitt 593). This utilitarian view of education misses the point, however, a liberal education affords students more tools to solve complex problems, making it more useful than an education in the practical arts in the long run. Knowledge itself is the main goal of an education, and a liberal education is best suited to that pursuit.
Education has been such a troublesome subject because those who argue about what it should do have not taken the time to understand what it is. Cardinal Newman says that “education is a higher word; it implies an action upon our mental nature, and the formation of a character; it is something individual and permanent, and is commonly spoken of in connexion with religion and virtue” (529). The character that education forms is part of the purpose that Louis Menand assigns education: “to empower people, to help them acquire some measure of control over their lives” (597). However, implications and purpose still do not answer the question of the definition of education. The word education comes from the Latin educere, which means “to lead out.” An associated word, pedagogy, has similar connotations; it comes from peid ago: “to lead children.” Now, to lead requires a leader. Manand indicates this when he argues, “[I]t isn’t what [teachers] teach that instills virtue; it’s how [they] teach. [Teachers] are the books... students read most closely” (599). In the definition of educere, the idea of leading also indicates that the students are being led out; but from where? One assumes that Plato answers this question with his analogy of the cave. The enlightened man leads those chained out of the cave of ignorance into the light of the sun, viz., knowledge.
In an education system where the end goal is the production of workers, as opposed to self-reliant citizens, reform is necessary if the society is to resume its original, successful course; likewise, this reform would be best if it were to make the education method like the one in place during the height of the society’s growth. Therefore, the system best suited to the reform of the current methods of education is that of the Liberal Arts— let free men be taught as such.
Allitt, Patrick. “Should Undergraduates Specialize.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 16 June 2006. Rpt. in Current Issues and Enduring Questions. Eds. Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 1999. 591-594. Print.
Federer, William J.. America’s God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations. St. Louis: Amerisearch, 2000. 240. Print.
Lewis, C. S.. The Abolition of Man: Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1965. Print.
Menand, Louis. “Re-imagining Liberal Education.” Rollings College, Florida. Speech. Rpt. in Education and Democracy. Ed. Robert Orill, City of New York College Entrance Examination Board, NY, 1997. Print. Rpt. in Current Issues and Enduring Questions. Eds. Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 1999. 597-599. Print.
Newman, John Henry. “Discourse V, Knowledge its Own End.” The Idea of a University, Defined and Illustrated. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1898. 99-123. Rpt. In The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What it Means to Be an Educated Human Being. Ed. Richard M. Gamble. Wilmington: ISI Books, 2010. 522-533. Print.
---. “Christianity and Letters.” The Idea of a University, Defined and Illustrated. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1898. 256-265. Rpt. In The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What it Means to Be an Educated Human Being. Ed. Richard M. Gamble. Wilmington: ISI Books, 2010. 533-537. Print.
(Written from my desk at school)
(Written from my desk at school)