4.14.2010

How To Grow a Man

It is popular to criticize college education because college does not train you for a job. There is a sense in which this is absolutely correct and a sense in which it is terribly off the mark. Most people should probably not be attending college for the simple reason that they have no interest in furthering their education. Education, in this sense, does not mean learning how to do something. Education means simply what it has meant for most of our history: The passing on of our civilization to future generations. Literature, history, empirical science, music, art, philosophy; not one of these things necessarily puts food on the table or provides shelter to those who need it. In short, we do not need these things in order to subsist. If this is what college is supposed to do (enable us to earn money for our biological necessities and luxury wants) then away with it. It has obviously failed this task.

However, if we look at our past, we see that this was simply never the proper aim of the college or university. In fact, the true purpose is the exact opposite. The curriculum of that brilliant medieval Catholic invention, the university, has had the same name for centuries: The Liberal Arts. The Liberal Arts education is and has always been the goal of the university. What does it mean, though? Both words, liberal and art, are Latin in origin. Liberal comes from the root "liber" which means free. This curriculum was historically distinguished from the Artes Serviles, or servile arts. What is the difference between them? Well, the answer to this question is also the answer to the question "What is it that makes the liberal arts the "free arts?"

The Liberal Arts are free from one thing: social utility. In other words, the liberal arts are liberal (free) precisely because they are not a means to a social end. The idea that the highest form of knowledge is technical knowledge is purely modern and utterly flawed. It is literally an inhuman form of education. For the ancients and medievals, the highest knowledge was philosophical knowledge. By this, I do not mean what you would typically find in an average college's philosophy department. What I mean is that the highest type of knowledge is philosophical in nature; it is knowledge for the sake of truth, not for the sake of serving some material end.

Man is the rational animal. This means that he has biological need which must be met (man as animal) but that he also can relate to the world absolutely (man as rational). To relate to the world absolutely means relating to it on terms other than how we need it to survive. A bird cannot consider a stick as a stick but only as a "house piece." Man needs to meet his animal needs because he needs to survive, and for this we simply do not need the modern college education with all of its waste and inordinate expensiveness; not to mention the fact that it is probably the fastest way to transform a 20 something man or woman into a moral wreck.

What we do need is a return to humane learning. We need an education aimed at bettering man as rational and not as animal. We need truly free arts that do not need to justify themselves by providing you with an excellent job.

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