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The Cranial Gymnasium – Critical Thinking

by Emerson Sandow

Critical Thinking (Logic)

One goal of many homeschoolers of widely-varied backgrounds is critical thinking or as it is also known, logic — the science of reasoning correctly. C.S. Lewis, (author of The Chronicles of Narnia; The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce), for instance, was a master at reasoning. He was taught logic at about the age of 11 or 12 by a rigorous tutor he lived with. This prepared him for his adult occupation as an Oxford tutor, where his job was to analyze and critique the weekly papers written by his pupils, illustrating their errors of logic so that they could re-write the paper the following week. By this process, he, in turn, taught them to think and reason – and become effective thinkers and supporters of their thoughts — rather than merely opinion-formers. Reading some of his shorter works, where he takes the reader upon a journey of actual thought and rational mental work, moving from point to point, constantly building a new conclusion upon each successive conclusion, is stimulating and awakens one’s awareness of this valuable skill of reasoning.

Critical thinking at its best entails having to decide, or prove for one’s self, what is “right” or “wrong” and may also require dealing in absolutes. Many modern people are uncomfortable with making such determinations and prefer to let themselves be ruled by emotions or convenience rather than by thought and reason. America of the early 21st century has a Politically-Correct, highly visible portion of the population that insists on diluting every thought and concept down to intellectual pabulum. In this mushy atmosphere, the term “critical thinking” at first blush, sounds harsh and grating to some. For those with no intellectual teeth, who thrive on pabulum, it probably is.

But, for those whose brains can process and digest intellectual material, and choose to investigate the definition . . . Random House College Dictionary (1975) provides the following on p. 317: “critical . . . 3. involving skillful judgment as to truth, merit, etc.;” and further down the same page “criticize . . . 1. to make judgments as to merits and faults.” And finally, “criticism . . . 1. the act or art of analyzing and judging the quality of something . . .”

These definitions are among those meant when one speaks of “critical thinking”. It is the ability to analyze a statement or concept to determine its merit, truth, faults, etc.

Much of what we read and hear daily, borders on propaganda and our true need to know this material is a myth of being informed. (I do not need to be informed of a serial killer’s activities on the other side of the country, for instance; nor does my son.) It is well-known that many “news” stories are so engineered that most of the “facts” are lost in a sea of spin-editing. (The movie “Wag the Dog” illustrated the extreme of this realm of “information”.) Other information is assumed by parents to be “necessary” for their children, when — upon closer investigation and calm, reflective thought — one realizes that children do not have a need to know about much of the information of the “real” world that bombards them. This type of reflective thought is an example of critical thinking. And the good news is: It can be taught. But, teaching all of this to one’s child would seem to be a daunting task, considering that since the early 1970s, we Americans have grown away from the skill of critical thinking, subsequently relying more on herd-ism and group “thinking” (opinion-forming) rather than on actual analysis of the information and insinuations that inundate our lives. What is a conscientious homeschooling parent to do? You can investigate teaching the Trivium, which is also known as the Classical Method. In the Trivium (“three roads”), Logic is one of the three. There are secular resources for teaching Logic and Christian resources, all of which are helpful and easy to use. ES

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Information Is Not Knowledge

By Mary Leppert and Michael Leppert

Most of us would agree, “Knowledge is power.” However, over the past 40 years the words “knowledge” and “education” (meaning “school”) have been confusedly melded. This is how we have arrived at the deplorable condition of having illiterate high school graduates (all well “schooled”) and major universities offering remedial math and English courses to incoming freshman!

Recently, yet another confusion of terms has arisen that is significant – especially to parents who teach their own children and are typically very aware of world events — the confusion between “information” and “knowledge.” Being informed of something does not mean you significantly know about it. With the explosion of “talk radio” and the Internet, information has become a constant stream of apparently significant stuff, but upon close analysis, you realize this “white noise” it is mostly not useful . . . and may even be harmful.

Lately, I, Mary, have been thinking that this information barrage is like an umbrella, always overshadowing all of our lives. As naïve as it sounds, whatever happened to “trusting” our politicians to do their jobs, so we can go about living our lives? Or keeping actors’ lives (and sins) in perspective (irrelevant) – rather than as front-page news day in and out? What ever happened to taking walks, reading books, enjoying life, instead of being so stressed out that we can barely concentrate on these truly important things?

I, Michael, was very much a fan of this “being informed” and when our son, Lennon, was 11 and 12 years old, he and I would listen to political radio together often; up to a point it provided a very good civics lesson for him, but after awhile, our capacity for Apparently Useful Information was maxed out. I realized that there is always going to be some major social or political problem facing us. For someone who thinks that these problems actually have a resolution, the barrage of troubles and woes becomes very depressing — and quickly counterproductive, with all of life seeming to be a problem-solving job . . . a hamster-wheel of one crisis after another.

We need to be judicious in our definition of “knowledge” – not only in the electronic information realm, but in all aspects of Life. If we truly value our precious minds and time, every bit of information that enters our consciousness matters, for it becomes a part of the “tomorrow” us, just as surely as food becomes part of our “tomorrow” bodies. As homeschoolers we are well able to control what goes into our minds – and the minds of our children. We can filter and tune out this information glut and choose to keep or remove from our lives T.V., talk radio, magazines, Internet news . . . you name it. We can sit at night and play a board game for after-dinner entertainment . . . or bake a pie or read a great book aloud — or just be! M&M

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Left-handed Writers

by Nan J. Barchowsky, http://www.BFHhandwriting.com

Is your child left-handed? If he or she is young, hand dominance may not yet be evident. Watch for the hand that reaches for a toy, pushes a door open, or throws a ball. If a child, young or older, changes hands for different tasks, he or she may be ambidextrous. Many teachers, and even pediatric occupational therapists fret over the establishment of hand dominance. Why? Adults who can work with either hand are blessed.

If you are right-handed, and teaching a left-hander you may feel unsure about how to go about it. It’s far less difficult than you may imagine.

Left-handers who write poorly are often pardoned with, “But he is left-handed.” It is not the fault of handedness. Our Western alphabet favors right-handers, but it need not be difficult for left-handers. Many write as well as right-handers. Both learn best at an early age with a good program. Nevertheless, older kids can resolve legibility and speed issues too.

Posture and paper placement are critical. A hooked wrist is hurtful if a handwriting session is prolonged. Wrists are designed to be straight most of the time. Place the paper to the student’s left and tilt it so the top of the page is tilted to the right. Sit comfortably at a table or desk, and with a straight and relaxed wrist, pull a line down toward the writer’s elbow. If the posture and paper position are good the slant of downstrokes will be forward at about 5°. The exact slant of the letters is of little importance as long as it is consistent, and not so excessive that letters become squashed.

Practice writing downstrokes for a few minutes each day. The downstrokes can join with light, drifting upward strokes. The result should look like twigs that are stuck in the ground and blown by a wind from the northwest (tilting slightly to the right). Add a few letters or words to the daily practice.

Hooked wrists result from placement of paper directly in front of the writer. Left-handers cannot see what is happening on the paper because the hand is in the way unless the wrist is turned. Writing flows from mind to paper. Letters and words, even drawings are made before the eyes see them. Nevertheless, we want to see what we have put on the paper.

Pen hold is the same for both right and left-handers, except that left-handers may place the fingers a little higher on the shaft of the writing tool. The forefinger will be about one inch from the point of a pencil. The tripod hold is the most commonly accepted pen hold. It is efficient, as it allows the most freedom of movement. The forefinger is on top of the pen or pencil with the thumb and third finger below the forefinger to support the tool.

If you, as teacher, are right-handed, it is helpful if you show your left-handed student how to sit and write. You say, “Oh no, I can’t.” Yes you can! No one is more right-handed than I, but I can sit, put the paper in proper position, hold a pencil, and try. The student may giggle or snicker at my wiggly, shaky lines. I just say, “Well, I am right-handed, so if your posture is good, and your paper is in place like this, your letters will look better than mine.” This demonstration is a benefit to the student, while it helps you to better understand the kid’s perspective.

Left-handers have a tendency to make marks from right-to-left. Sometimes this results in mirror writing. The writer can read it, but the reader cannot. Maybe no one dared correct Leonardo da Vinci, who wrote from right-to-left all his life. However, it’s best to redirect the writing so readers do not have to go to the bathroom mirror to read a message. Non-writing exercises help. It can be as simple as standing to point at any object on the left, and move the hand to the right; lower the hand and repeat. All the while the student is saying, “left-to-right, and left-to-right, and….” Do the same using the forefinger to trace patterns on a table; they can be just scribbled, wavy lines. Use the sequential downstrokes described above. Exercises should require no thought of how to form letters; it is all about flowing, directional movement.

Moving on to letters, “t” and “f” are ones to work with near the beginning of instruction. Both have crossbars that the left-hander tends to write from right-to-left. Start with a few joined downstrokes; then write “t” and “f”. Now, add “tie, tub, fine, fur.” With each word, let the crossbar move to the letter that follows and join to it. This is not only good practice for left-to-right directionality; it is the most efficient way for anyone to write “t” and “f”. With long words, one does not need to remember to go back and cross “t” in a word such as tintinnabulation, nor will the crossbar be misplaced.

If the child is young and shows a strong preference for the left-hand, there are a lot of pre-writing exercises that may seem babyish to older kids, but are fun for little ones. Pretend to direct traffic from west-to-east. Make it fun by giving the child a flashlight in a darkened room so he or she can see the pattern of light. Make a paper airplane to hold or fly across a room from left-to-right; let it land down on the right. Scribble from left-to-right in finger-paint, rice, sand or chocolate pudding. With your finger, trace horizontal lines on a child’s back. Often children have great ideas for practice.

Always speak the action. Both parent or teacher, and child should do this to reinforce habits of correct movement. Verbal reinforcement is a major factor in learning to write, and for remediation. It is difficult to move from right-to-left if you are telling yourself “left-to-right.” The sooner a student internalizes the movements for letter formation, the sooner he or she will be writing automatically. The goal is to put messages onto paper that travel from mind to fingers without thought of how to form letters, or numerals.
Right-handed teachers are often unnecessarily apprehensive about teaching left-handers. Teaching, learning or remediation is not insurmountable. In fact, with some forethought, it can be nearly as easy as right-handers teaching right-handers. N.J.B.

Nan Jay Barchowsky is the owner of Swansbury, Inc. and Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting.

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How Do Unschoolers Prepare For College?

by Alison McKee

Whether you are a practicing unschooler or are considering the unschooling option, I’m pretty certain you have put some thought into your child’s future. That future may include a college education. If it does, rest assured that unschooling can be a wonderful way to prepare for college admissions.

College preparation becomes a parental goal at different times in the lives of children. In some families, there is the expectation that all children will go to college. In other families, college is seen as one of many life choices a child may make. No matter when we begin having serious thoughts about college, there are certain things we, as parents, can do which will help keep the doors of college open, should our children want to go.

Colleges and universities are discovering that test scores and knowledge of traditional curriculum are not always the best indicators of college success. This is to the advantage of unschoolers. Admissions committees are broadening their search for students to include capable students who show a vigor for learning and an interest in expanding themselves. It is understood that in some cases, students who have been locked into traditional mainstreamed education, and have even done exceedingly well there, may not be able to handle the rigors of higher learning. Our family discovered this when, at seventeen, our son decided to apply for college. This young man, who spent most of his time fly fishing, engineering at a radio station, singing, and studying German, was told by an admissions officer that, while he clearly did not have the same educational background as the incoming freshmen, his life demonstrated that he knew how to learn, had an interestingly diverse background, and appeared to be a self-motivated student. It was on this basis that his admissions to six colleges were granted.

If I am honest, I have to admit that, when they were born, I expected my children to go to college some day. You might say it was hard for us to envision anything but a college education for our children. Yet, as parents, we chose to unschool our children because we recognized, as we watched them grow, just how limiting our own college preparatory life had been. Our preschool-aged children seemed to be more imaginative, creative and enthusiastic about learning than we could remember being since our own preschool years. Once we recognized that our children were natural-born learners, we felt obliged to find ways to expand their learning options rather than confine them to the rubrics of a standardized curriculum. Unschooling seemed to offer us the means to meet that challenge. At every step of the way we discovered that our children’s self-motivation had to take precedence over any decisions we could make regarding their future if we wanted them to find success as adults.

In the preschool years, it seems almost ridiculous to consider the question of college, yet in this day and age, many parents are feeling the pressure to prepare their children for that opportunity almost from birth. In my opinion, all parents — unschoolers and non-unschoolers alike — need to be cautious about yielding to these pressures. How can we prepare young children for college when we have no idea what the world of our children will look like when they are ready to go to college? Our world is changing too quickly for it to be considered a wise move to begin the process of reining in the developing creativity and curiosity of a young mind by the expectations of a curriculum that will certainly be outmoded by the time our preschool children are teens. Unschooling provides us with the opportunity to avoid such folly. Even though we can’t imagine what our world will be like fifteen to eighteen years from now, we do have the means to prepare our children for that world.

Those who are going to be the educated survivors (and thrivers) in the future will be those who can think creatively, problem solve, and adapt to change. With the exception of a few who may be severely cognitively disabled, all small children come into the world possessing those skills. Although we may not recognize it, every time our preschooler creates an imaginative song to play by, designs a tree house or learns to welcome new friends into his/her social circle, s/he is practicing the skills of creative thinking, problem solving and adaptability in developmentally appropriate ways. Without being given many opportunities to generate, manipulate and work through these simple life tasks, our children may be unable to think creatively, problem solve and learn to adapt to change when it is time for them to enter the adult world. Rather than allowing the temptations of computerized learning and standardized curriculum to tempt us into thinking that our children will be disadvantaged should they not participate in such learning activities, we should embrace the view that our children have the inborn ability to learn necessary skills of survival and achievement. Those skills, uniquely expressed in each individual child, will be learned when we allow them to follow the tendrils of what interests them into a world far broader than the limitations of a curriculum. We know this to be true from the many successes of by such persons as Albert Einstein, Agatha Christie, Winston Churchill, and so on.

Therefore, by joining your children in their own creative pursuits you will do more to help them become successful learners than by providing them with an expensive curriculum. At this stage of the unschooling journey, your investment in a possible college education should involve allowing your children to learn how to learn by providing them ample opportunity to live in an authentic child’s world.

As parents who embrace unschooling principals and the value of a college education, don’t panic and feel you must give up the one for the other. There are so many ways to help your children achieve this goal. When your children are school aged, try at all times to remain focused on helping them learn to learn within the realms of their own interests. This may mean that you will be challenged to explore subject matter which has never been considered worthy of curricular development, let alone appropriate for young learners to explore. In my family, our two children challenged us to facilitate learning interests we knew little or nothing about. At eight, one wanted to learn about dissection, at ten, a foreign language. The other, at twelve, was a devoted long-distance swimmer and an emerging Shakespearian dramatist. The pursuit of these interests required that we turn to our community and avail ourselves of its resources. Hours at the library, helping the children learn to research their own references, and more hours skimming catalogs, reading to them from material too difficult for them to read independently, and practicing, practicing, practicing; all these things helped our children acquire skills needed by all college bound students. At the library, authentic interests helped them develop the skills of good researchers. (One demonstrated her research and writing skill by presenting us with a twenty-page paper which convinced us to get a Great Dane.) Ordering from catalogs helped one learn the value of spending educational dollars wisely. Learning parts for Shakespearian plays taught the personal value of staying with difficult work until subject matter is understood. Practicing for swim meets brought real meaning to the value of working at a repetitively boring task to achieve a personal goal. While they may, in the eyes of many, have spent their time learning the “wrong” things, they discovered, when they were teens, that their love of learning could most successfully be expanded upon by enrolling in college. Their enthusiasm for learning earned them that right.

You may already recognize that my husband and I had a change of heart regarding our expectations about the necessity of a college education. By the time your unschooled child reaches the teen years, you may have the same change of heart. Why? Because, as our unschooled children start taking on their own “personhood,” we become aware of what little control we have over who they will become. As children become teens, their interests take on many divergent paths. Knowing the value of an educational dollar and having little understanding of where he was headed in life, our thirteen-year-old gave up trying to learn math and devoted himself to fly-fishing in preparation to become a professional fly-tie-er and fishing guide. Who could counter the wisdom of possibly spending money unwisely when these were our child’s goals? Who could counter the wisdom of our daughter as she prepared for a life in the theater? Drama school seemed such a wise choice, and the tuition for it, so much more reasonable.

When our children voiced these career goals, we felt compelled to support their decisions, all the while knowing that they might have a change of heart at a later date. Since our teens were truly running their lives, our sole responsibility to them was to maintain the position we had held for so long: Facilitators of their educations. As such, we took our responsibility towards continuing to help them grow quite seriously. At the time our son became interested in fly fishing, he was still involved with studying German, singing in a choir, and volunteering at a radio station. He didn’t give up on these interests. Rather, he continued to expand them and simply began reading about fly fishing. Reading about fishing became an in-depth study of particular aspects of world and United States history, science and literature — the backbone of any college education. Meanwhile he decided to try a university-level German class. Success in it made him want to try a history class. (His research project for that class had to do with the development of the Catskill School of fly fishing in the eastern United States.) Between fishing, the university classes, and singing, he was able to find ample time to read books (some on tape when he was tying flies) and immerse himself in the life of our community. This well-rounded life was ample preparation for college.

In a similar fashion, when our daughter became deeply interested in acting, we suggested that she read many different plays and playwrights. Her readings, like those taken on by her brother, broadened her understanding of history and literature. When she wasn’t reading or acting she was involved with choir, volunteer work, paid employment, and tons of babysitting. This life experience was ample preparation for college admissions. Like her brother, all the while that she simply lived her life, she honed the skills of a devoted learner.

When our children chose college, their devotion to learning and desire to pursue that learning within the context of the college environment, made them strong candidates for admission. There were few skills they didn’t have that would keep them from gaining entry to the schools of their choice. Being self-directed and informed learners, they knew they had to learn math. It took each of them about four months to do so. After that, they found unique paths into colleges and universities. One eighteen-year-old chose to take select courses at a technical college and at a four-year university, in preparation to be matriculated at a third college a year later. The other presented a narrative transcript describing his five-year fishing career, an ACT score, and the record of his college classes to universities and colleges as his record of learning. With these unique backgrounds, both were able to get into college. Most importantly, they never had to sacrifice their unschooled lives to the narrow confines of a standardized curriculum and, like fish to water, they adapted to college life with ease. Both graduated a few years ago. A.McK.
_____________________
Alison McKee lives in Wisconsin. She is the author of the popular book “Homeschooling Our Children, Unschooling Ourselves” published by Bittersweet House

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Press for Learning’s Building Foundations for Scientific Understanding Science Curriculum

Vol. I [8-1/4 x 11, 381 pgs, $24.95]

(K-2) Beginning Science Learners

Vol II [8-1/4 x 11, 469 pgs, $29.95]

(Gr 3-5) Intermediate Science Learners

Vol. III [8-1/4 x 11, 506 pgs, $34.95]

(Gr 6-8) Advancing Science Learners

 

S

cience is such a broad landscape that many teachers and parents can be completely stumped as to what to teach, when to teach it, and where to start. Press for Learning’s curriculum, “Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding” (BFSU) lays out lessons that address and integrate all the major areas of science and build understanding in a logical systematic manner.

Developed by career scientist, teacher, and observer of how children learn, Dr. Bernard Nebel, BFSU sets out a logical, step-by-step path in three volumes, that allow the teacher to confidently go forward with teaching, knowing that the appropriate grade level will be covered and the sequence will lead to successful learning.

This is done by adhering to modern principles of how children actually learn. These principles demonstrate that typically, children are taught to memorize information that has no connection to themselves or their lives and has no context of understanding. Therefore, the information is soon forgotten or half-remembered and confused. Worse, children do not learn rational and critical thinking with this faulty approach.

Dr. Nebel designed BFSU to eliminate this frustrating condition by following three simple principles of teaching:

• Lessons must connect to what children see and experience in their everyday lives.

• Lessons must relate to, build on, and connect to one another so that understanding is developed in

logical, systematic increments—a natural sequence of stepping-stones.

• Thinking, like learning to play the piano, is developed by continual exercise and practice, not by a

handful of lessons requiring thinking.

The BFSU curriculum requires no special background in science or teaching and is very reasonably-priced, especially factoring in the fact that each volume covers 2 years of teaching.

BFSU is designed by having four “threads” of disciplines: Nature of Matter, Life Science, Physical Science and Earth & Space Science. These threads are followed through the entire curriculum and connect at various points throughout. This way, students gain a broader and more integrated understanding that encompasses all of the major areas of science.

BFSU emphasizes child-centered and hands-on learning that promotes critical and rational thinking. Rather than memorizing facts, the lessons require students to observe, experiment and think about the problem or topic at hand. This develops a lifelong habit of thought-based opinion forming. This approach also builds retention of facts, since they are applied to real-life and real situations.

Please visit the website for complete information on ordering and support.

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A Liberal Education

by Robert Livingstone, Foreword by Michael Leppert

The following is an essay taken from the 1955 edition of the Great Books Primer, published by the Great Books Foundation. I found the Primer at a “Friends of the Library” sale for a quarter! As a homeschooling father, I am constantly striving to increase my knowledge and intellectual understanding. I feel I owe it to my son to make the attempt, even if I fail on occasion. Many homeschooling parents feel the same way and my question is: “Why shouldn’t everyone?”

I wanted to share this essay with you because without intending to, Mr. Livingstone cogently analyzes the negative condition — and therefore, the beginnings of a solution — to what I feel is a modern American tragedy: The comfortably-accepted idea that “average” people should be consumers, but not thinkers; breadwinners, but not philosophers; workers, but without the expectation of possessing a fully-functioning brain. When I was in high school, I did not understand why it was accepted that the blue-collar, factory-working fathers and the white-collar office-working people, could come home from work night after night, sit in front of the tube after dinner until sleep overcame them, and then stumble off to bed. They read only the newspaper — never a book.

I recall comparing notes with my friends about their fathers (and mothers) relating to this phenomenon and only once did I encounter a father who actually read and thought. He was a barber and a sculptor. Years after high school, his son and I were band-mates, rooming together, and the son read me a sophisticated, polished letter from his dad describing his artistic frustration and some of his aspirations. It was shocking to me to hear someone from my father’s generation write in a style and about a topic I could closely relate to! It was the first clear, personal proof I had that that generation actually had “soul.”

The mind is a muscle; if it is not exercised regularly, it atrophies. Once it atrophies, no opinion issuing from it is validly based upon thought . . . it is only opinion-forming. The political views, social outlook, advice-giving – everything — is negatively affected by this dysfunction of the mind. In a country like the U.S., which is designed to be ruled by an informed and brain-ful citizenry, such atrophy spells trouble and ultimately, doom. In high school I considered this condition to be a catastrophe to the future of America. Sure enough, I was right.

Forty years later, this brain atrophy has grown, fed by television and Madison Avenue’s morphing of the citizenry into core-less, complete consumers. The average person now discusses nonsense from television or motion pictures as though it were real life, rather than recognizing it as the imaginings of screenwriters! More than ever, people define themselves by what they can buy. If Descartes wished to help such consumers to prove their existence, in order to communicate to them meaningfully, his explanation would have to be not “I think, therefore, I am” but “I buy, therefore I am.”

Not surprisingly, such brain atrophy has trickled down to produce the core-less university degree, conferred upon the core-less graduate. Where once a person attended college or university to enhance his humanity and quality of life, (if s/he weren’t intent upon learning a specific profession requiring such attendance) today, far too many people attain advanced degrees merely to acquire a commercial piece of paper, enabling them to make more money (to buy more stuff!). The center of such a person does not exist, for it has not been developed. He is an educated moron, who “knows” virtually nothing, but will go about pontificating upon his “education” at every opportunity, letting everyone within earshot know “how it is” about this, that and the other — particularly about education. There were always such people, but I firmly believe that their numbers have swollen in the past 30 years – to dangerous proportions.

When I read Robert Livingstone’s essay in the Great Books Primer, I realized that he had stated this situation clearly and quickly. Knowledge should be the result of learning. Employment should be the result of schooling. Maybe all of us uncomfortable with the word “homeschooling” could alter it to “home-knowing”! I hope you enjoy Mr. Livingstone’s superior discussion and explanation. — MJL

The Free Man’s Education
by Robert Livingstone (from A Great Books Primer, Copyright, © 1955 by Great Books Foundation, reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

What is a liberal education? Most people would probably reply, “Subjects like history, literature, languages, pure mathematics and science are a liberal education, but subjects like book-keeping, business administration, commercial French, accountancy, cooking and shorthand are not. They are technical or vocational, not liberal.”

So far as it goes, that answer would be true. But why are some subjects classed as liberal education and others not? In itself, liberal education is an odd phrase. What has the adjective “liberal” to do with education, and why should a “liberal” education be regarded as a good thing? To answer that question, we must go back to the country where the phrase “liberal education” was first used. The word “liberal,” “belonging to a free man,” comes from a world where slavery existed, and has survived into times when, in the literal sense, it has no meaning because there are no slaves. To understand it, we must imagine ourselves in the Greek world where the great distinction was between free men and slaves, and a liberal education was the education fitted to a free citizen.

That distinction may seem obsolete in a world where slavery has been abolished. But though slavery has gone, the ideal of a free man’s education is not antiquated. Here, as so often, the Greeks saw to the heart of the matter and put their fingers on an essential distinction. If we had understood and remembered this idea of a free man’s education, our views of education would have been less confused and we should have gone straighter to our goal. Of slaves the Greeks took little account. Their condition prevented them from being men in the full sense of the word. But they held that the free man, the real man, the complete man, must be something more than a mere breadwinner, and must have something besides the knowledge necessary to earn his living. He must have also the education which will give him the chance of developing the gifts and faculties of human nature and becoming a full human being. They saw clearly that men were breadwinners but also that they were, or ought to be, something more: That a man might be a doctor or a lawyer or a shopkeeper or an artisan or a clerk, but that he was also a man, and that education should recognize this and help each individual to become, so far as his capacities allowed, what a man ought to be. That was the meaning of a liberal education, and that is its aim – the making of men; and clearly it is different from a technical education which simply enables us to earn our bread, but does not make us complete human beings.

And what is a complete human being? Again I shall take the Greek answer to this question. Human beings have bodies, minds and characters. Each of these is capable of what the Greeks called “virtue” (arete) or what we might call “excellence.” The virtue or excellence of the body is health and fitness and strength, the firm and sensitive hand, the clear eye; the excellence of the mind is to know and to understand and to think, to have some idea of what the world is and of what man has done and has been and can be; the excellence of the character lies in the great virtues. This trinity of body, mind and character is man: Man’s aim, besides earning his living, is to make the most of all three, to have as good a mind, body and character as possible; and a liberal education, a free man’s education, is to help him to this; not because a sound body, mind and character help to success, or even because they help to happiness, but because they are good things in themselves, and because what is good is worth while, simply because it is good. So we get that clear and important distinction between technical education which aims at earning a living or making money or at some narrowly practical skill, and the free man’s education which aims at producing as perfect and complete a human being as may be.

This is not to despise technical education which is essential; everyone has to learn to make a living and to do his job, and he cannot do it without training: Technical or vocational education is as much wanted as liberal education. But they are not to be confused. They are both important, both necessary, but they are different. And yet to some extent they overlap. Take French. A man may study it in order to be able to order his meals in a French restaurant, or for business purposes; then it is technical education. He, as a man, is no better for being able to talk to a French waiter or to order goods in the French language. But he may study French to extend his knowledge of the thoughts and history and civilization of a great people; then it is liberal education. He, as a man, is more complete for that knowledge. Or take carpentering: Its study may be a means to a living or to making furniture or boats or other objects; then it is a technical education. But it may also give a clearer eye, a finer sense of touch, a more deft hand, and in so far, make a better human being; then carpentering is liberal education. Or take Greek: It may be studied in order to get access to the wisdom and beauty of Greek literature; then it is liberal education. Or its student may have no interest in these things, but simply be taking it in order to get credit in the School Certificate; then it is technical education – it is anything. In fact as Aristotle remarked, “in education it makes all the difference why a man does or learns anything; if he studies it for the sake of his own development or with a view to excellence it is liberal.”

This is the kind of education (without prejudice to others) which we want – that people should study “for the sake of their own development or with a view to excellence”, so that they may become human beings in the Greek meaning of the words, and not remain mere business men, mere chemists or physicists, mere clerks, mere artisans or laborers. If so, we have a clue to the maze of education, a guide to choosing dishes from the educational menu. Whatever else we select to meet our personal tastes or needs, the dinner must include the vitamins necessary to human health, so that we achieve that liberal education which makes men fully developed, within the range of their individual capacities, in body, character and mind.

I shall only attempt to deal with a certain aspect of the liberal education of the mind (not that in practice it can be cut off cleanly from the other two). Here we enter an enormous field – that vast complex of related and unrelated subjects which fills the lecture lists of all the universities and the shelves of the libraries of the world. This is the food which the intellect produces and on which in turn, it feeds. Yet this bewildering variety can be reduced under two heads – the study of the material universe, and the study of man as a sentient, thinking and spiritual being.

The first of these consists in the sciences which study and attempt to explain the material universe through Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Botany, Geology, Geography, and those which study man regarded as a physical phenomenon through Anatomy, biology, and the rest. Only scientists are competent to deal with the difficult problem of teaching these to the ordinary man. The elements of different sciences can be taught – thus biology and chemistry are taught in the high schools – but it is even more desirable to bring home to the student the meaning and importance of science in human life. That perhaps can best be done, historically by a description of the growth of science, and biographically by some account of great people of science, their personalities and their work.

This brings us to the second great branch of knowledge, of which it is a part and which is usually called Humanism. Its subject is Man – man, viewed in himself and his proper nature, viewed as literature views him, as a being with feelings and prejudices, virtues and vices, ruled by intellect, or perverted by passion, inspired by ideals, torn by desires, acting on plan and calculation or carried away by unreflecting emotion, sacrificing his life now for gold and now for an idea; an adulterer, a patriot, a glutton, a dreamer, Aegisthus, Oedipus, Hamlet, Macbeth, Faust – or man, viewed as a being governed by the laws of a universe outside him, viewed as philosophy views him, subject to limitations of time and space, of his own origin, nature and destiny, related to beings and forces outside him, adapting himself to those relations and modifying his action according to his conception of them, a creature with moral capacities or the descendant of an ape, determining his character and his future according to his wishes, or merely one wheel among many millions, blindly revolving in a great machine; or, thirdly, man viewed as a political and social being, as history views him, creating states and overthrowing them, making laws and refusing to be bound by them, opposing religion to politics, and freedom to law, binding art and politics, empire and freedom, public and private life into one harmonious whole, or crowning one to the exclusion of the rest, fighting, colonizing, making money and spending it, treating his neighbor as a fellow-being, or using him as a tool for the production of wealth, monarchist, parliamentarian, socialist, anarchist, Pericles or Augustus, Cromwell or Robespierre.

Before the student of literature, philosophy and history are displayed all the forces and ideas that have governed man, personal, religious or political; to see why he has rejected this and espoused that, why this failed and that was successful, what are liberty and religion, family affection and personal greed, and, in a word, to study man. As he reviews them and compares them with the present, he can see, as far as a man can see, what ideas have come down to his own day, and what new elements are combining with them, can forecast in some degree the future, and by virtue of his knowledge, guide the streaming forces and shape the molten mass, serve his country and use to the best advantage, his own powers. R.L.■

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