Sunday, August 21, 2011

The purpose of education

In a roundtable discussion last week a participant made the point that education was to prepare you for life and that if an athlete went from college to the pros then the college had succeeded.  This trade school view of a college education seems to be quite common—at least I hear it all the time--and is I think mistaken.  A well educated person will be employable but that isn’t the purpose of education.

If life is a stage and we are merely players, then an education is getting up to speed on the story so far, of coming to understand the other characters as completely as possible, and perhaps most importantly to come to understand all the opportunities available to us in the playing of ‘our role.’  It’s also to ask whether Shakespeare’s metaphor of life as play is correct, and if so to what extent and what follows from that understanding.  As much as education is about getting a good job it is about seeing Sherman and Mr. Peobody trying to find the ruby yacht of Omar Khayam and getting the joke [Rubaiyat, by Omar Khayam].

In her The Gentleman in Trollope, Shirley Letwin described education as follows:

“A man is then what he learns to be.  And learning requires submitting to a teacher.  But that does not turn learning into ‘an imposition on a given self’; it is rather the making of selfhood…The pupil has the character of an apprentice, not a disciple, and he is only temporarily so until he acquires the skills, not the style, of the master.  For learning the arts of civilization does not consist in copying patterns but in mastering a language of one sort or another, and knowing a language does not dictate what should be said.”

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