“The school has a contribution to make to every activity of life. But it makes that contribution by doing its own particular job honestly and well. That job is to provide intellectual training in ever field of activity where systematic thinking is an important component of success.”
Arthur Bestor – Educational Wastelands: The Retreat from Learning in our Public Schools
I know no one is reading my blog yet, but in case someone someday does, I would like to plug a book. I had this book by Mr. Bestor on my wish list for many months thanks to a recommendation in a lecture by Lisa VanDamme (whose VanDamme Academy is doing great things by the way), but I put off buying it because of the title. That public education is becoming a wasteland is no revelation and I wasn’t too interested in reading about all the negative aspects that I experienced first-hand daily.
This was a mistake. This book is wonderful! It is positive, benevolent, and it articulates (much better than I could) many of the principles behind my own practices. So far, it is an ode to the power of a true liberal arts education.
Here Mr. Bestor defends the efficacy of the abstract.
“A formula is abstract not because it has lost touch with facts but because it compresses so many facts into small compass that only an abstract statement can sum up. Simple forms of knowledge can accomplish simple tasks; complex forms of knowledge can accomplish complex tasks.”
Here he links the intellectual to the moral.
“It (intellectual training) implies no opposition between the intellectual and the moral realm, for ethics is applicable to the thinking process itself, and rationality is a constituent of every valid ethical system.”
Here he sums up his argument (and mine) that a school must stick to its job of intellectual training.
“By knowing its capabilities and its limitations, a school can make a more effective contribution to vocational training, to physical education, and to ethics than if it cherishes the delusion that it is a home, a church, a workshop, and a doctor’s office rolled into one.”
Here he links hard work with originality.
“The test of every educational program is the extent to which it trains a man to think for himself and at the same time to think painstakingly. Originality and rigor, imagination and discipline – these are not pairs of mutually exclusive qualities. They are qualities that must be welded together in a liberal education.”
And while Mr. Bestor starts in chapter two with a collectivist argument I’m not fond of (education is vital to American democracy), he ends the chapter properly, showing the benefits of an education to the life of the individual.
“To make himself truly free, a man must break the intellectual chains that keep him a serf by binding him to his parish, by binding him to his narrow workaday tasks, by binding him to accept the authority of those placed over him in matters temporal and spiritual. A liberal education frees a man by enlarging and disciplining his powers. He is no longer bound to his parish, because education makes him spiritually a citizen of all places and all times. His workaday tasks no longer subdue his mind to their narrow demands, for he is large enough to cope with them and with the great intellectual tasks of a free man as well. He is no longer obliged to accept blindly the authority of those above him, for they are above him no longer. In the things of the mind he is their peer, and he can decide for himself, on as good ground as they, the great human issues that confront him.”
Thanks Mr. Bestor. I wish you around today saying these things. Thank the gods for the printed word.