Some of the people I follow are writing interesting stuff about education.
The Problem of an Excess of Educated Men. The esteemed Mr. Briggs is quoting from and commenting on Lenore O’Boyle paper “The Problem of an Excess of Educated Men in Western Europe, 1800-1850.” (Behind a paywall. Too bad.) Here’s a taste:
The result was to emphasize the importance of education as an avenue to wealth and power; the diploma might do what a title of nobility had once done.…
Germans of high position were troubled by the situation. As early as 1809 Wilhelm von Humboldt was warning the king against training too many men and then finding that the state was under moral pressure to employ them as officials…
So von Humboldt, having heard and enthusiastically embraced Fichte’s Addresses to the German Nation which were delivered in Berlin late 1808 and early 1809, starts warning the King that advanced education will lead to an oversupply of people aspiring to jobs as government flunkies and bureaucrats. His answer was the Prussian model, or Research, university. At such universities, which includes every large and many small universities today, students study and do research in specialized fields. If you do acceptable original research, you get awarded a PhD. Existing universities were more or less based on the Trivium and Quadrivium, and were concerned with equipping students with the skills needed to think and speak clearly and well: grammar, logic, rhetoric, and plenty of math via music and astronomy. Then, one might go on to philosophy and theology, or some practical art such as law or medicine.
A research university focuses on, yes, research, on the underlying assumption that the world is advancing and we need to stay on top of that progress. Chronological bigotry – e.g., that moderns are 800 years smarter than medievals – is considered so obviously true as to be invisible.
Von Humboldt was in charge of reforming Prussian education at the time. He championed, along with Fichte, the founding of the new University of Berlin in 1810, got Fichte appointed rector, and began the replacement of traditional universities with the research universities we have now. Prussia’s great economic and military success inspired elites in Europe and America to copy their schools.
Notice how education is synonymous with career advancement, and notice how the state is seen as the solution: people aren’t getting educated for the careers “we” need; when “we” can’t hire them all, they will be unhappy and unmanageable. That education might be a good in itself, or that the interests of the government might not be coextensive of those of the people governed, is not considered very seriously, if at all. The idea one should become educated in order to be free, and what that would mean, is not discussed.
Mr. Briggs links to some of his earlier posts that are well worth a look. Not understanding and agreeing on what education means and what it is for is at the heart of our troubles.
Cardinal Richelieu On The Necessity Of Non-Education. “Because a knowledge of letters is entirely indispensable to a country, it is certain that they should not be indiscriminately taught to everyone.” Hmmm… Also: “If learning were profaned by extending it to all kinds of people one would see far more men capable of raising doubts than of resolving them, and many would be better able to oppose truth than to defend it.” Deconstruction, anyone?
The Best College (For Most) Is No College. “What is worrying is that graduates come away thinking they know everything, or enough.”
Sevarian is discussing what is essential reading to escape the slavery of modern ideas.
How to Read “The Classics”. Here, he compares the value of reading modern works (none of which I have read. Oops.) with the presumed value of reading “classics”. It’s a good start to answering the question of what an education is for.
Reading the Classics: An Illustration. He uses Marcus Aurelius and Hobbes as examples, and proposes an approach to why and how reading these works is valuable.