Atlantis Alumni

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Education: Not A Priority In The United States

12 Noon: Marc asks "What ever happened to critical thinking?" Here's my response in the form of a question for today: What ever happened to the notion of a "liberal education?"

"Liberal education, which consists in the constant intercourse with the greatest minds, is a training in the highest form of modesty, not to say of humility. It is at the same time a training in boldness: it demands from us the complete break with the noise, the rush, the thoughtlessness, the cheapness of the Vanity Fair of the intellectuals as well as of their enemies. It demands from us the boldness implied in the resolve to regard the accepted views as mere opinions, or to regard the average opinions as extreme opinions which are at least as likely to be wrong as the most strange or the least popular opinions. Liberal education is liberation from vulgarity. The Greeks had a beautiful word for "vulgarity"; they called it apeirokalia, lack of experience in things beautiful. Liberal education supplies us with experience in things beautiful. " - Leo Strauss (1959)

When I first attended college back in the late 1960's, there was still some attempt to insure that college graduates could do more than merely take their place as cogs in the corporate world. We had to complete two years of "basic studies." This curriculum was meant to expose students to various disciplines. You had to select on an elective basis, a minimum number of courses in fields outside of your intended major. The idea was a good one and one that opened up my mind even if it took many years for me to reap the benefits. Being in this program made you think about lots of things outside of your core interests. It prepared you in ways you didn't realize at the time to experience and deal with the world. Today I'm afraid the notion of a "liberal education" is passe.

Education in general in this country is in terrible shape. We lack the will as a people to insist that EVERY child receive a quality education in a decent school with competent, dedicated teachers. We can spend billions on Bush's folly, but for our kids we can only offer some of them vouchers so that a fortunate few can escape the fate of the many who are stuck in sub-standard schools. This is truly an outrage. It is insane. We have mortgaged our future in so many ways, but the most shameful way is in how we have let our children down.


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