I have been re-reading Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences for the first time in about 25 years. It has been amazing, and I look forward to moving right on through his other two books in his educational trilogy. I came across this quote that just set me back on my heels. It is gold encrusted with diamonds:
Nothing is more certain than that whatever has to court public favor for its support will sooner or later be prostituted to utilitarian ends. The educational institutions of the United States afford a striking demonstration of this truth. Virtually without exception, liberal education, that is to say, education centered about ideas and ideals, has fared best in those institutions which draw their income from private sources. They have been able, despite limitations which donors have sought to lay upon them,to insist that education be not entirely a means of breadwinning. This means that they have been relatively free to promote pure knowledge and the training of the mind; they have afforded a last stand for “antisocial” studies like Latin and Greek. in state institutions, always at the mercy of elected bodies and of the public generally, and under obligation to show practical fruits for their expenditure of money, the movement toward specialism and vocationalism has been irresistible. They have never been able to say that they will do what they will with their own because their own is not private. It seems fair to say that the opposite of the private is the prostitute. (Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, pp. 136-37)
This was written in 1948. He nailed it. I have said it before in this blog: I am philosophically conflicted over the issue of “public” or government run education. My reasoning to date runs as follows, with my final point being the point Weaver is making.
- We need an educated populace to have a civil society. That much causes me to agree with the need for a generally educated populace that probably means the government in some way facilitates.
- The government, especially the federal level, does not do service well. Normally when it gets involved in insuring people, or trying to take care of them in any way, they mess this up. This argues against education being public.
- At the heart of great education is a unity of purpose between student (and behind him, his parents) and educator. For a long time this was captured in the phrase “the cultivation of wisdom and virtue.” Everyone agreed on this purpose (and it is only one) for education. That is not so anymore, and thus makes public education very difficult when the dozen horse are all pulling in differing directions.
- Once any unified philosophical principle of purpose has been lost, education inevitably comes down to utility (this is Weaver’s point). You have to justify all the work, time, money, etc. by showing how it is beneficial. This quickly becomes Marxist, “the most good for the most people” type of thing.