What’s in an education?

Esther Jantzen’s article, “Literacy begins at home” provides an excellent explanation of what parents can’t or won’t do by themselves.

However, I greatly fear that, unlike Alexander Pope’s warning that “a little learning is a dangerous thing,” our leadership prefers a little learning, but not too much. American consumerism supports the oligarchic wealth that rules this country. And a truly well-educated majority, well-versed in history, might threaten the “greed is good” axiom that has enslaved so many by seductive credit options.

There is another, perhaps more obvious problem that consistently hampers a real education in this country: To my knowledge, we have never had a serious national debate on just what constitutes a good education. Nineteenth century English poet and school inspector Matthew Arnold and contemporary American educational theorist Robert Hutchins had it right when they, in different ways, maintained that an Education (with a capital “E”) involved acquaintance with the best that has been thought and said in the world. That is, Education comes from being informed about history and the world of ideas. A society so educated is well equipped to deal with the problems of a rapidly changing world. Instead, we have made education a job-training exercise at all levels, including, most perilously, in higher education. Course work requiring analysis and original critiques of ideas has all but disappeared from curricula.

Learning “how to do” is fine, but it is not a substitute for “how to think.” If we are seriously pursuing literacy for more people, let us do this with a higher purpose than training for whatever is hot in the job market.

Rodger Lewis was a librarian at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He is retired and resides in Florida.

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