Not so much a “book report” here as it is quotations that struck me as I worked through Kirk’s chapter, “Cultivating Educational Wastelands” from his work, The Politics of Prudence.
All the normal obvious things have to be said: Kirk was writing as I was coming into education. Things have not gotten better. But Kirk was speaking of those things prudent, not just holding up unreal ideals. To have something like his vision in front of us as we try to pursue what is best in education is helpful. I offer these quotes in hopes that you will read his entire essay; it is quite worth it.
“The United States is now the great power in the world. Nevertheless, who can praise an educational system that turns out young people marvelously ignorant — except for a very small minority — of history, geography, and foreign languages, and so unfitted to have anything to do with concerns larger that those of their own neighborhood. Worse still, what future have a people whose schooling has enabled them, at best, to ascertain the price of everything — but the value of nothing?” p. 240
“The primary end of the higher learning, in all lands and all times, has been what John Henry Newman called the training of the intellect to form a philosophical habit of mind.” (p. 241)
“The genuine higher education is not meant, really, to ‘create jobs’ or to train technicians. Incidentally, the higher education does tend to have such results, too; but only as by-products. We stand in danger of forgetting, during our pursuit of the incidentals, the fundamental aims of learning.
“Why were colleges and universities established, and what remains their most valuable function? To discipline the mind; to give men and women long views and to instill in them the virtue of prudence; to present a coherent body of ordered knowledge, in several great fields; to pursue that knowledge for its own sake; to help the rising generation to make its way toward wisdom and virtue.” (p. 243)
“The education of yesteryear was founded upon certain postulates. One of these was that much truth is ascertainable; another, that religious truth is the source of all good; a third, that we may profit by the wisdom of our ancestors; a fourth, that the individual is foolish, but the species is wise; a fifth, that wisdom is sought for its own sake; a sixth, that for the sake of the commonwealth, schooling should quicken the moral imagination.
“These postulates have not ceased to be true; it is only that they have been forgotten in our century’s obsession with power and money, and our century’s illusion that ideology is a ready and satisfactory substitute for thought.” (p. 251)
“Renewal failing, by the conclusion of the twentieth century America may have achieved complete equality in education: everybody compulsorily schooled, and everybody equally ignorant.” (p. 252)
In continuing to write on this blog, it is my hope and prayer that we together are pursuing something more than ‘power and money,’ but rather wisdom and virtue, the Great Good.