Quote of the Day: On Education

 

The view taken of a University in these Discourses is the following: — that it is a place of teaching universal knowledge. This implies that the object is, on the one hand, intellectual, not moral; and, on the other, that it is the diffusion and extension of knowledge rather than the advancement. If its object were scientific and philosophical discovery, I do not see why a University should have students; if religious training, I do not see how it can be the seat of literature and science.

Such is a University in its essence, and independently of its relation to the Church. But, practically speaking, it cannot fulfil its object duty, such as I have described it, without the Church’s assistance; or to use the theological term, the Church is necessary for its integrity. — from the Preface to Saint John Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University

We somewhat regularly engage in conversation here about the state of public education and the universities in America, which prompted me to finally begin reading Newman’s ideas on the matter. I haven’t read far beyond these first paragraphs of the Preface, but I’ve been contemplating them ever since my initial reading.

It isn’t unreasonable to view Dr. Larry Arnn’s ideas on education to be in conflict with Newman’s, given the following, even though The Idea of a University was first recommended to me by one of the deans at Hillsdale. But, I think Newman will address the somewhat Chestertonian paradox (which isn’t really paradoxical upon further reflection) he laid out in these opening paragraphs in the rest of his Discourses and in alignment with President Arnn’s and Hillsdale’s understanding of educational institutions’ proper mission.

I’m imperfectly repeating Dr. Arnn’s thoughts from a talk he gave at Clemson University titled, Recovering the Purpose of Liberal Education and other exposure I’ve had to President Arnn’s ideas, but here goes.

The purpose of education isn’t teaching, as Newman states in his opening. It is learning by the students through observation and comparison — what is popularly now called “critical thinking.” It assumes objective truth, or what Newman calls “knowledge.” Already, the alarm bells about the state of education in America should be going off.

So much of what is happening in public schools and universities is an appeal to the subjective. What’s your “identity?” What’s your gender? How do we improve society? These are not intended as observations to be made, but rather opinions to be expressed. If there’s any criticism any adult should be able to make about public schools and universities, it’s their asking for the opinions of children. And, yes, college-aged students are still children (Hillsdale treats them as such and sends their report cards to their parents). The goal of education is for children to learn and grow into something better than they are today. Of course, “better” can be subjective unless we agree on what is good.

This is something else Hillsdale does in both its primary school curriculum and college — it asks students to contemplate “the good” based on what they’ve learned through study and observation. I claim with near certitude this is not what’s happening in public schools these days. Students are being indoctrinated (not taught) to only opine on what is “good” about minority populations and the countries from which they originate, and to hate “old, white men,” Western civilization, and especially the United States. The dynamic today is straight out of Dewey. It’s about power and its bastard child, activism.

Dr. Arnn goes on a bit about Aristotle, who said, “The source of knowledge is in the thing known and not in the one who knows it.” Aristotle knew the cultivation of the virtues, both moral (doing right) and intellectual (thinking right), depends upon the ability to rightly observe the truth. By contrast, Thomas Dewey claimed the only way to know anything was by the scientific method, which explains the turn education and society took toward “expert opinion” — “trust the science” — and said education is to contribute to the social evolution of society. Whatever that means.

That right there explains the progressive degradation of both education and society. The public good arises from private concerns, not a top-down imposition of what some lefty professor’s opinions are. Opinions. Pheh! As Arnn says, societies are not machines forged, they are plants grown. He quotes Churchill (who never went to college!) as saying, “Expert knowledge is narrow knowledge” and “the opinion of the plain person who knows what hurts is a better guide.”

The essential questions to address (which “science” and “experts” are ill-suited to are): Why are we here? What are we for? and How can we be good ones of our kind?

Instead, like totalitarian societies of the past, “justice” (especially “social justice”) is whatever the strongest say it is. Given that the commanding heights of our institutions are dominated by the Left, the progressives hold almost all the power. This is what’s being “taught” as righteousness to young people in our institutions. It will not end well, and it’s why I consider dismantling public education a hill to die on. I’d even go so far as to say our lives, fortunes, and sacred honor depend upon it.

Public education delenda est.

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  1. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Other interesting tidbits from Dr. Arnn’s Clemson talk: Of the 3.5 million workers in public education, fewer than half are teachers.

    He made an interesting statement (could be from Aristotle) that knowledge of things that never change is the basis of practical knowledge. This points to the problem with subjectivism in our public education system. Is there anything unchangeable to know?

    EDIT: We can’t even know what a woman is unless we’re biologists — er somthin’.

    • #1
  2. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    I think that the idea of so-called liberal education is fundamentally flawed.

    It seems to me that liberal education inherently defines religion as a matter of opinion.  If God is real, and His revelation to us is true, as I believe, then any area of intellectual inquiry that assumes otherwise is built on a false premise.

    In addition, I think that the idea of liberal education is necessarily going to undermine faith, because a corollary to its premise that religion is a matter of opinion is that views founded on opinions considered non-religious will be at an advantage in such an environment.

    It does get worse, in my view.  I think that the set of ideas generally identified as “Liberal,” arising out of the so-called “Enlightenment,” is an alternative religion.  The clearest expression of this, at least as far as I know, is the opening of our Declaration of Independence, which explicitly claims divine sanction for a doctrine of liberty, rights, and government that is contrary to Biblical teaching.

    Thus, I view Liberalism as a false religion.  It suppresses other religions by considering itself to not be a religion, and then excluding other religions from education and public discourse.

    • #2
  3. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    I have many thoughts on the topic of education but not organized sufficiently at this point to present a solid and coherent analytical conclusion.

    I do think we live in an environment so different from anything that has come before that all previous approaches are ineffective, particularly if we treat each and every person as an individual, as I think we should. I will say here that I think family and religion are early vital components and much recent effort has been expended tearing this down.

    Very good and timely article.

    • #3
  4. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    I have many thoughts on the topic of education but not organized sufficiently at this point to present a solid and coherent analytical conclusion.

    I do think we live in an environment so different from anything that has come before that all previous approaches are ineffective, particularly if we treat each and every person as an individual, as I think we should. I will say here that I think family and religion are early vital components and much recent effort has been expended tearing this down.

    Very good and timely article.

    Thanks, Bob. I’d be interested to read your thoughts.

    • #4
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