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What is the Ultimate Goal of Liberal Education?

Education, in the sense in which I mean it, may be defined as the formation, by means of instruction, of certain mental habits and a certain outlook on life and the world. It remains to ask ourselves, what mental habits, and what sort of outlook, can be hoped for as the result of instruction?

Bertrand Russell

Education is only truth in a state of transmission; and how can we pass on truth if it has never come into our hand? I know that certain crazy pedants have attempted to counter this difficulty by maintaining that education is not instruction at all, does not teach by authority at all. They present the process as coming, not from outside, from the teacher, but entirely from inside the boy. Education, they say, is the Latin for leading out or drawing out the dormant faculties of each person... There is, indeed, in each living creature a collection of forces and functions; but education means producing these in particular shapes and training them to particular purposes, or it means nothing at all. Speaking is the most practical instance of the whole situation. You may indeed “draw out” squeals and grunts from the child by simply poking him and pulling him about. But you will wait and watch very patiently indeed before you draw the English language out of him. That you have got to put into him; and there is an end of the matter.

G. K. Chesterton

Education in the modern world is intimately associated with work. Not surprisingly, education is considered to be a necessary preparation for employment and is, itself, one of the largest employers in a modern economy.

We produce a higher education system which is more and more separated, more and more divorced from the intellectual function. What I see out there is an enormous public hunger for high quality, general propositions of an intellectual kind, something that isn’t journalism, isn’t the sound byte culture, isn’t entertainment, is ideas.

Michael Ignatieff

The highest marks [at Oxford] tended to go to examinees who were good at doing what was expected of them and these tended to be unoriginal people. More independent-minded students did not usually behave like this; and the more imaginative they were, and the more distinctive their intellectual personalities, the less likely they were to behave in his way. What these tended to do was to pursue with unusual intensity those subjects that interested them while neglecting those that did not, often with little regard for examination results. The consequence was that first-class degrees went to students with the mentality and temperament of high-grade civil servants... Someone in the English school pointed out that of the outstanding living authors who were educated at Oxford—W. H. Auden, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Robert Graves, Anthony Powell, William Golding—none had firsts, and half got thirds. The head of one of the colleges once said to me: ‘I understand why we’re teaching the students, but I don’t understand why we’re examining them.’

Bryan Magee

Compulsory schooling teaches a hidden curriculum that is much more powerful than its overt subjects. This curriculum produces estrangement between students, frustration, weak powers of expression, alienation from tradition, and a sense that one can only learn under duress from certified experts. There is an elimination of curiosity and concentration; there is a difficulty connecting the present to the future and the past; there is a taste for cruelty and moral numbness that is cumulative; there is an uneasiness with intimacy and candour; there is a disloyalty to family and friends; children become excessively materialistic; and finally they become dependent, passive and timid in the face of new situations. All of these effects are the product of schooling, but they are also extremely useful in making a highly organized and highly layered commercial civilization self justifying.

John Taylor Gatto

Education is never neutral. It either liberates people or it dominates and oppresses them.

The classical view of learning is that you learn from the experiences you have and from the company you keep—especially from the people you identify with. Learning is easy and the most natural thing in the world, and it’s predominantly a social activity.

The official view of learning and all its apparatus should be abolished and the classical view re-established. Then the way people naturally are would become an advantage instead of a disadvantage.




Thoughts about Education & Schooling

A great deal of education is simply passing on culture.

Education is a word like “transmission” or “inheritance”; it is not an object, but a method. It must mean the conveying of certain facts, views, or qualities to the last baby born. They might be the most trivial facts, or the most preposterous views, or the most offensive qualities; but if they are handed on from one generation to another they are education.

G. K. Chesterton

A genuine liberal education is often uncharted, unpredictable, hesitant, and even leisurely.

The age-old idea of education as the quiet pursuit of wisdom is being replaced by a utilitarian scramble to acquire knowledge of facts, and especially material facts, and above all, commercially rewarding facts.

Christopher Derrick

Aristotle said that the purpose of education is to make the pupil like what he ought and dislike what he ought.

It is a fact of experience and common-sense that education has to be governed by some set of human values, however sharply we may disagree about the content of these.

Christopher Derrick

Compulsory education has a hidden agenda to turn the citizenry into a pliable, unthinking mass. That’s why the schools so often seem to inhibit their students intellectually.

University presidents are a nervous breed who praise independence of thought on all occasions of public ceremony; and worry deeply about its consequences in private.

John Kenneth Galbraith

Education does not mean teaching people to know what they do not know; it means teaching them to behave as they do not behave.

John Ruskin

Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.

Robert Frost

Education frees the intellect and imagination from bondage to unexamined ideologies or beliefs.

Northrop Frye

Education is nothing if it is not the methodical creation of the habit of thinking.

Ernest Dimnet

Education cannot produce the wish to think where it does not exist, but, given this indispensable germ, it ought to provide the necessary conditions to bring it to maturity.

For every person who wants to teach there are approximately thirty who don’t want to learn.

It is futile and vastly expensive to try to teach people things they are not motivated to learn.

Most people do not care to be taught what they do not already know; it makes them feel ignorant.

Mary McCarthy

Everybody agrees education is a good thing—for other people.

No teaching is worth doing unless it has a militant quality to it.

Northrop Frye

It is quaint that people talk of separating dogma from education. Dogma is actually the only thing that cannot be separated from education. It is education. A teacher who is not dogmatic is simply a teacher who is not teaching.

G. K. Chesterton

Real education must ultimately be limited to men who insist on knowing, the rest is mere sheep-herding.

Ezra Pound

Every age has its folly, and the folly of the twentieth century is probably a desire to educate.

George Moore

School—I define “school” as an age-specific, teacher-related process requiring full-time attendance at an obligatory curriculum—is an institution built on the axiom that learning is the result of teaching. And institutional wisdom continues to accept this axiom, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Ivan Illich

Real knowledge is always acquired in the pursuit of real goals.

School prepares you for just one thing: School. It doesn’t prepare you for life. As a result School is utterly future oriented. The present is awful, but the future will be wonderful.

The longer each person is in the grip of [institutional] education the less inclination he will have for self-directed learning.

Ivan Ilich

It’s nothing short of a miracle that modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled youthful curiosity. For this delicate plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom.

Albert Einstein

The primary purpose of a liberal education is to make one’s mind a pleasant place in which to spend one’s time.

Sydney J. Harris

Education has as one of its primary objects to teach us how to stop and be still and look, how to concentrate our gaze till things begin to reveal their mystery to us. It must teach us to preserve and heighten our sense of wonder, which is the womb of poetry and of philosophy alike; for otherwise, no matter what our book-learning, beauty and life will pass us by.

Gerald Vann

The two predominant activities of liberal education are reading and conversation.

Reading after a certain time diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and use his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.

Albert Einstein

You can lead a man to the university, but you can’t make him think.

Finley Peter Dunne

The University brings out all abilities, including stupidity.

Anton Chekhov

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