The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

March 24, 2019

Higher Education and the Liberal Arts

ISI recommends reading through the introductory essay before following the embedded hyperlinks or before working through the course itself. The essay can orient your reading and reflection so that like Caleb and Joshua you are calm and perceptive in the face of the intellectual giants you will find in this land.

At least since William F. Buckley Jr.’s God and Man at Yale became a best-seller in 1951 (if not before), the state of higher education has been a pressing concern for American conservatives. In that book, Buckley lamented that although Yale University ostensibly had a Christian mission—it had been founded in 1701 by Congregationalist ministers to train orthodox clergymen, Harvard having fallen into Unitarianism—its Religion faculty by the middle of the twentieth century promoted cool skepticism at best and out-and-out atheism at worst. What’s more, although Yale had been lavishly endowed with the wealth of entrepreneurs and businessmen, its Economics faculty promoted socialist collectivism. Buckley connected the defense of Christian orthodoxy and free market economics at Yale to the larger American struggle against atheistic Communism; the Christian capitalist U.S. could hardly resist the Soviet enemy abroad if American youth were being taught to reject key pillars of their civilization. Perhaps most pointedly, Buckley derided the professorial retort to his criticism—“academic freedom”—as a “superstition,” setting in motion a discussion on that subject among conservatives that would last a decade, or longer. In fact, that discussion continues today, with much disagreement.

God and Man at Yale

While the particular items in Buckley’s bill of indictment may now seem antiquated to us, trapped in the historical amber of the Cold War, in general terms his polemic captures much of the essence of the conservative case against American higher education: The professors have embraced an adversarial stance in relationship to the society which supports them. They are therefore failing to transmit the high civilization of the West, which is their function. This failure constitutes both a civic abuse and an intellectual abuse. Buckley also pioneered a conservative tactic in response to the academy’s failings, calling for alumni and trustees to use their influence to ensure that universities returned to their true mission.

One hundred years earlier, John Henry Newman had articulated a vision of higher education and the liberal arts in his Idea of a University that was conservative of the finest traditions of the West. It is to Newman’s educational vision that most conservatives perennially return. For Newman, a university is a place for teaching “universal knowledge”—and so it is only secondarily a place of specialized research. By broad exposure to all branches of learning, and in deep conversation with a community bound by intellectual friendship, students develop a view of “the whole,” a view of the entire range of knowledge in all its interrelationships. Thus equipped with a “philosophical habit of mind,” a liberally educated student readily sees connections—how “one thing leads to another”—and he is protected from the intellectual error of mistaking a part for the whole. For Newman, possession of this “philosophical habit of mind” constitutes the “health” of the mind: it is the perfection of human nature with respect to the intellect.

In Newman’s own historical circumstances, he was concerned to defend the place of theology in university studies—against proposals by the British government to construct state universities that would exclude the controversial subject and focus instead on “useful” studies. But more broadly, Newman was concerned to defend the classical liberal education offered at Oxford and Cambridge against proponents of Wissenschaft, or empirical research in “science” narrowly conceived. Education in Wissenschaft—so called because it was patterned after the German model—would promote specialization in particular disciplines of research, especially in the natural sciences, to arrive at “new knowledge.” (The essentially relativistic colors of such an illiberal, “scientific” education were later shown by John Dewey, the leading American proponent of such an educational model, who rejected all notions of fixed and eternal moral truths in favor of “critical thinking” devoid of specific content.) “Useful” education, it was claimed, would fit men for the modern world, training them in knowledge applicable to their professional lives and the “real” problems of an “evolving” society.

Against proponents of these utilitarian approaches to education, Newman contended that knowledge is a good in itself, and to be sought for that reason. Knowledge sought for its own sake gives one a breadth of mind that is not only good in itself, but also turns out to be useful. It is useful because, contrary to the advocates of scientific specialization, knowledge of the liberal arts allows one to find the whole in the particulars and escape being mentally trapped by the limits of a certain discipline. Education in the liberal arts enables a student to see things as they really are; it keeps a student’s mind open, so that at length, with due circumspection, he can at last close in upon the truth. This is the mark of the gentleman, or what today we might call a civilized man—not good class background or fine manners per se, but the philosophical refinement of the intellect that is achieved through the gentle discipline of liberal learning.

University College, Oxford

Newman’s vision of the university won many converts among those who wished to preserve the preeminent place of the liberal arts against the encroachments of the social and natural sciences: an echo of his themes may be found in Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy, which describes liberal education as coming into familiarity with “the best that has been thought and said” on all subjects of human interest. But Wissenschaft breached the walls of academe in late nineteenth-century America. Theology was dethroned and replaced by a dizzying succession of disciplines and sciences, both natural and social. This development only accelerated after World War II. More and more students were entering American colleges and universities to avail themselves of the benefits of the GI Bill. Their goal was not to study the liberal arts, and so to perfect their human nature; rather, it was to “make it” in American society.

In response to the increased, government-subsidized demand, many American university administrators in the 1950s marketed higher education like any other commodity, attracting consumers by multiplying major fields of study, lowering admission standards, and promoting profitable extracurricular distractions like intercollegiate athletics. Moreover, after the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik in 1957, the competitive pressures of the Cold War prompted generous government funding for research in the natural sciences, enhancing their prestige and economic cachet for university presidents and students alike. Higher education became big business.

The generic American institution of higher education was turned into what Russell Kirk called “cow college”—or, more famously, “Behemoth U.”—led by the empire-building “President Boomer.” Instead of guiding students through a liberal course of study, Behemoth U. obscured the possibility of intellectual “health” by watering down curricular requirements: sociology became the most popular subject in the 1950s. Behemoth U. left individual students isolated and adrift, proving too big for a manageable intellectual community of friends that would foster paideia, true wisdom. In seeking to fit students for the modern world, Behemoth U. made them unfit. By seeking to educate everyone, it risked educating no one. By structuring a student’s education according to his tastes and not to the traditions of his civilization, such education pragmatism played into the hands of academics who had already foregone all notions of absolute truth. American higher education was coming to reflect the hollowness of those tasked with defending its noble purpose.

student demonstration at Columbia, 1968

The next great assault on higher education occurred twenty years after World War II, when the agnostic collectivists Buckley warned against were succeeded by a more radical generation. Seemingly spoiled by peace and prosperity unknown to their parents, students of the Baby Boom generation of the late 1960s resented the imposition of even the modest discipline remaining in American universities. The final abolition of the university’s responsibility to stand in loco parentis with respect to its students naturally abetted a new wave of political radicalism. Marxist students, organized in Students for a Democratic Society, harnessed student anomie and reluctance to serve in Vietnam to a broader radical agenda. Opposing discipline and demanding curricular and student life changes to suit their wishes, they engaged in often anarchic violence: occupying administrative buildings, disrupting classes, and intimidating professors whose teachings they disapproved of. Most faculty and administrators lacked the fortitude to fulfill their responsibilities and put the young upstarts in their place; in any case, they themselves were often men of the Left who had little difference with the radicals in principle.

Conservatives for their part condemned the violence, sought to defend the civilized norms of academic life, and in general made use of the occasion to reflect on the besetting problems threatening to eclipse the entire enterprise of liberal learning in modern America. For example, conservatives observed that the growth of university enrollments to more than 40% of the college-age population inevitably meant that many attending university were not qualified to do so, and so an inchoate resentment was necessarily unleashed: the germ of student unrest. This theme has returned in the recent work of Charles Murray. Others in the period, men and women of the center-left who would soon be known as neoconservatives, were so dismayed by the capitulation of the universities to the radicals—and the threat this posed to liberal learning—that they moved toward the right. In publications such as Commentary, these “liberals mugged by reality” would produce much valuable analysis and criticism of the “affluent society” that produced and permitted the anarchy found on American campuses in the 1960s.

As the feverish carnival of the late 1960s wound down (in no small part because Richard Nixon ended the draft, and so students no longer faced the prospect of conscription into the war in Vietnam), student radicals who had been denouncing the university now began to join it—by going to graduate school and becoming professors themselves. So began the Left’s “long march through the institutions.” (Lately, some historians have begun to recognize that there was an “other side” of the 1960s—the rise at that time of conservative student organizations. But this dimension of our recent history remains marginal in mainstream accounts.)

Realizing that they might have thrown out the baby with the bathwater, some universities restored a semblance of core liberal arts curricula in the 1970s, but these reforms were short-lived: Stanford University’s “Western Civ.” program being a notable example. By the 1980s, the student radicals, now middle-aged, had received tenure or became administrators. But by this time postmodernism and deconstruction had become more fashionable than Marxism. Reason and rational discourse itself was considered a mere instrument by means of which white males oppressed women and racial and sexual minorities. Instead of carefully engaging classic works that had “selected themselves” into the canon by virtue of their excellence, the tenured radicals required students to read works representative of demographic groups previously not represented in core curricula, i.e., women and racial minorities. These postmodern multiculturalists wanted assigned readings to be determined according to interest-group representation rather than intellectual merit: after all, it was claimed, conceptions of merit merely reflected race, class, and gender allegiances.

anti-racism student protest, 2008

Whole new disciplines—e.g., “Women’s Studies” and “African-American Studies”—were invented to further these new commitments. Defending and promoting the Western tradition was indeed far from the minds of professors in these disciplines, but still farther was the notion of a course of study that ended in the attainment of truth that would be good for its own sake. Political ends were paramount. Universities were to perform the service of promoting social reform through affirmative action, research supporting progressive causes, etc. The “liberation” the proponents of postmodernism aimed at was that of liberating students from the allegedly racist, sexist, and imperialist Western heritage. Existing disciplines in the humanities—English, History, and the Classics—were corrupted by being brought into conformity with the new ideology. As a result, coherent liberal arts curricula based on Western Civ. were replaced with an amalgam of disparate “representative voices.” Their goal was less education than indoctrination, not the broadening of intellectual horizons in order to close in on truth, but the indiscriminate opening of minds—“raising consciousness”—in order to attenuate or even eliminate personal, particular attachments to family, community, and religion.

What resulted from radical reforms of higher education—besides dramatically declining standards—was a new form of “illiberal education” that enforced a politically correct orthodoxy which condemned anything possibly offensive to the sensibilities of women and minorities. “Political correctness” was an expression used in the heyday of Joseph Stalin and his American fellow travelers to describe faithful adherence to Marxist orthodoxy and the Party line (used, of course, with a lack of irony characteristic of Communists). Modern leftists appropriated the term for college speech codes and an atmosphere of ideological conformity in the classroom that would ensure the student body’s adherence to approved opinion. Political correctness inhibited free enquiry and speech codes often punished those who dared to question radical pieties. These abuses gave rise to a whole genre of exposes of universities’ violations of free speech and free inquiry and an entire organization devoted to combating the anti-intellectual strictures of political correctness.

The most stinging indictment of contemporary trends in higher education came from Chicago political theorist Allan Bloom’s surprising 1986 bestseller The Closing of the American Mind, provocatively subtitled How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students. Bloom had been a young professor during the 1960s at Cornell, the scene of some the decade’s most egregious offenses against common academic decency. But although students had the wrong enthusiasms then, in the 1980s he found their minds were so dulled by popular culture—especially Dionysian rock and roll—that they were utterly incapable of experiencing the love of learning in what ought to be the “charmed years” of their education. Apathy had replaced fervency.

The Closing of the American Mind

This was in part a consequence of the rise of multiculturalism, which explicitly denied the superiority of Western civilization, uncritically celebrated non-Western cultures, and promoted philosophical and moral relativism. Such relativism impoverished students’ souls by fostering a kind of indifference, preventing the possibility of coming to love the search for wisdom. After all, if every culture has its own “truth,” incommunicable to other cultures, then why spend any time in the quest for truth? True wisdom does not need to be sought if it does not objectively exist; that would be like setting out to hunt for unicorns. Bloom lamented the fragmentation of the academic disciplines—the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences lacked integration. It seemed that the only path to any resembling real knowledge lay exclusively through the natural sciences.

But Bloom did not call for a restoration of theology. Philosophy was his queen. Bloom claimed that the university was fundamentally a product of the Enlightenment, intended to be a safe haven for the unconstrained exercise of speculative reason by philosophers. Since he believed that America was also a product of the Enlightenment and founded on reason alone, the decline of Socratic philosophy in the university bode ill for the future of American democracy. As had many other thinkers before him, beginning with Plato in his Republic, Bloom affirmed an intimate connection between the quality of citizens’ education and the health of a republic.

Though admitting shortcomings, Bloom recommended a Great Books curriculum (effectively meaning the Great Books of the Western tradition) as the best solution to the vacuity of contemporary higher education. The Great Books, he thought, would expose students to the best that has been thought and said in the world. By introducing students to the finest minds in Western history, and letting them have unmediated, open-ended dialogue with them, the Great Books would sharpen students’ intellects for their own ongoing philosophic quest.

Bloom’s book was a success because it exuded a love for the philosophic life and touched raw nerves in academia and in America more generally. Not surprisingly, Bloom was condemned as a reactionary crank by establishment liberals in universities and the media. But more traditional conservatives were also critical. They applauded his diagnosis of contemporary ills, but expressed strong reservations about his prescriptions. Students could not just pick up the Great Books and understand them without knowledge of the historical and intellectual context in which they were written. Many doubted that a Great Books approach would teach students anything beyond how to read and interpret texts. Simply reading and interpreting texts would not teach philosophic habits of mind. It would produce students who were oversophisticated, seeking sophistication for its own sake, but not believing that there was any real truth to grasp beyond the play of interpretations. These solitary philosophers would lack Newman’s gentlemanly wisdom and the true love that gives rise to philosophy. Finally, conservatives rejected Bloom’s claim that the United States, and the modern university, were fundamentally products of the Enlightenment and dedicated to perpetuating it. Instead of being a safe place for philosophers to exercise unconstrained reason, they pointed out that the university was a product of medieval Christendom, rightly concerned with training philosophic reason to function within a tradition of faith.

college students visit the Intercollegiate Studies Institute

In spite of conservatives’ penetrating criticisms of American higher education, the forces arrayed against defenders of the liberal arts—entrenched administrative bureaucracies and tenured radicals—have frustrated reform efforts. Just as when God and Man at Yale came out, university administrations still take money from alumni and use it to fund programs that subvert the religious and political beliefs alumni and the American people generally hold dear. A vast array of institutions have been established to expose the ideological imbalance of faculties and the sheer inanity of much that goes on in American institutions of higher education and to protect students against persecution motivated by political correctness. Another way conservatives have responded is by forming alternate institutions. New liberal arts colleges have been founded to transmit liberal learning, some with curricula based on the Great Books, others rooted the scholastic tradition. New institutes have also been founded within existing universities to carve out programs in which students may pursue a liberal education. Alternative associations of academics like the National Association of Scholars and the Historical Society were formed to promote free inquiry and genuine scholarship unprejudiced by ideology. Summer institutes offered by private educational organizations like ISI help students fill in the lacunae in their higher education. Guides for students in schools that have little or no core requirements have been written to help students cobble together a liberal arts curriculum for themselves.

All these conservative initiatives serve both William F. Buckley’s and John Henry Newman’s purposes. When a young person is able to imbibe deeply of the Western tradition, he is able practically to defend our civilization in the cultural and political realms, yet he is not a mere cadre for the culture wars. The current massive decline in students’ civic literacy—knowledge of basic American principles, texts, and institutions—is a symptom of a larger loss of concern for objective, knowable, and valuable truth, the traditional end of a liberal education. The liberally educated man or woman has been formed by the pursuit of truth with the foundational texts of the West informing all his thinking, and so he possesses a natural allegiance to truth in all realms of human endeavor. The ordered course of a liberal education produces two fruit from the same tree: a love for truth itself, and a love for the ordered liberty that is our Western heritage.

Lesson 1: Ancient Greece

  1. Aristotle, Politics, Book VIII
    • What is meant by, “ is clear that education should be based upon three principles—the mean, the possible, the becoming, these three”?
    • Why should a citizen be molded to the “form of government under which he lives”?
    • Are music and gymnastics properly a central part of a liberal education, and if so, why?
    • Does public education presuppose that “the whole city has one end,” and if it does have such an end in America, what is our one common end? Is public education defensible without a unitary common end?
  2. Plato, The Republic, Book VII
    • Is the introduction to being, to the full light of the sun, for everyone? If not, whose chains should be released?
    • Should one come back into the cave from the light? Why or why not?
    • Is mathematics essential to philosophy?
    • Why does the philosopher-king in the “perfect State” also “bear its image”? What does this mean, and is it the same as Aristotle’s citizen molded to his city’s form of government?

Summary question: What is the purpose of an education for Plato and Aristotle, especially in relationship to the public good?

Further reading:

  1. Richard Gamble, The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being
  2. David J. Levy, “Education as Recollection, Encounter, and Ascent”
  3. Elizabeth C. Shaw, “Philosophers for the City: Aristotle and the Telos of Education”
  4. Thomas Pangle, “The Socratic Critique of Sophistry”
  5. Peter Stanlis, “Plato and Aristotle”

Lesson 2: Ancient Rome

  1. Quintilian, Preface, Book 1-Chapter 2, Book 8-Introduction, and Book 12-Chapter 2 from Institutes of Oratory
    • What is characteristic of a “good man,” and why is his goodness necessary to the orator?
    • In what sense is it possible to attain education without attaining virtue?
    • Why does Quintilian give priority in education to virtue over education in the skill of oratory proper?
    • What distinguishes an orator from a philosopher, and is this a useful distinction in our day?
  2. Seneca, “On Liberal and Vocational Studies”
    • How is virtue connected to the wisdom that “gives a man his liberty”?
    • Do physical or artistic subjects like wrestling and music have a place in liberal education? If not, why do so many authors contend that they do? If so, why do we not better incorporate such subjects in contemporary American education?
    • Exactly how do the liberal arts “prepare the soul for the reception of virtue”?
    • Is academic specialization (cf. the description of Apion) antithetical to Senecan virtue and moderation?

Summary question: How do the Romans differ from the Greeks in their discussions of education? To what do they give special attention or what do they ignore that the Greeks did not?

Further reading:

  1. Tracy Lee Simmons, Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and Latin
  2. E. Christian Kopff, “The Classics and the Traditional Liberal Arts Curriculum”
  3. J.M. Lalley, “The Roman Example”
  4. John E. Rexine, “World of Ancient Rome”

Lesson 3: Early Christian education

  1. Basil the Great, “To Young Men, on How They Might Derive Profit from Pagan Literature”
    • Consider Basil’s image of pagan learning as the foliage to the fruit growing from a Christian soul. What sort of relationship does this image evoke, and how is it to be maintained with the radical rejection of the value of “this human life of ours”?
    • What is the goal of virtue’s acquisition? Though both Christian and pagan authors write about virtue, do they mean the same thing by the word?
    • What is Basil’s ordering of the relationship between Jerusalem and Athens?
    • What does “He must have heard, it seems to me, our commandment forbidding the taking of an oath...” mean, and what sort of relationship does Basil posit between God’s Law and pagan knowledge of the Law?
  2. Jerome, “To Laeta” and “To Magnus”
    • What about pagan learning, specifically, does Jerome want to purge away in order to have a “true nation of Israel”?
    • What is the cause of Magnus’s question, according to Jerome, and what does that illuminate about the conflict between reason and revelation?
    • When and why should education begin?
    • How does Christian training in virtue differ, if it does, from Stoicism?

Summary question: Is there a tension between Athens and Jerusalem? If there is, how or should that tension be maintained in the process of education, and if not, is the tension’s resolution essential to education?

Further reading:

  1. Mordecai Roshwald, “Rome and Jerusalem: A Tale of Two Cities”
  2. Louise Cowan, “Jerusalem’s Claim on Us”
  3. Richard Sherlock, “Jerusalem and Athens”
  4. Dante Germino, “Leo Strauss versus Eric Voegelin on Faith”

Lesson 4: Renaissance and Reformation

  1. Michel de Montaigne, “Of the Institution of Children”
    • Can a liberal education be obtained without financial wealth to sustain it?
    • What is the significance of becoming one’s own guardian, e.g. here, of not taking a writer on his own authority?
    • Why is physical training essential to education?
    • How does Montaigne balance the dual necessities of the governor and a truly liberal education?
  2. Martin Luther, “To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools”
    • Should we distinguish between the content of the Christian education enjoined upon parents and a liberal education? Take into account the historic coincidence of Christianity and liberal education.
    • What does the primacy of the family over education mean for the content, form, and manner of education?
    • What does Luther mean by a “public school”? What sort of res publica does such a “public school” presume?
    • What does knowledge of languages, the liberal arts, and history bring, according to Luther?
  3. Milton, “On Education”
    • What view of man and his abilities does Milton’s “end then of Learning” show forth? Is such learning in any sense liberal?
    • What effect on a nation’s religious and political culture do its schools have?
    • Why does Milton rail against medieval scholasticism?
    • Why does Milton propose an almost exclusively Biblical and classical education?

Summary question: What are the similarities and dissimilarities between the three authors, specifically in their views of human nature and curricular prescriptions?

Further reading:

  1. John Carroll, The Wreck of Western Culture
  2. Charles D. Murphy, “The Vision at the Center”
  3. Ellis Sandoz, “Modernity’s Renaissance Origins”
  4. Thomas Molnar, “Renaissance and Religion”

Lesson 5: The Enlightenment

  1. George Turnbull, Chapter 1 of Observations upon Liberal Education, in All its Branches <>
  2. What place does virtue have in Turnbull’s educational theory?
  3. How are the effects of one’s education made lasting and indelible by his instructor?
  4. Is habit more important and/or useful than dialogue as a method of instruction? Is habit antithetical to a liberal education?
  5. Why does Turnbull commend natural philosophy before all other studies, and what sort of break is this with earlier authors?
  6. What theories of the origin of society does Turnbull provide, and why do they appear in an essay on education?
  7. What does the rejection of the teaching of original sin mean for education?
  8. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, A Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences
    • How is Rousseau’s account of European intellectual history related to his answer to the Academy’s question?
    • Should an education seek to reverse the ill effects of civilization on the child?
    • Is political freedom necessarily coincident with a liberally educated people?
  9. Immanuel Kant, Chapter I: Introduction and Chapter IV: The Cultivation of the Mind from Kant on Education
    • How does Kant’s idea of “natural roughness” color his educational philosophy?
    • What is the perfection to which Kant desires mankind to ascend?
    • What is the distinction between an improvable human nature and a “condition worthy of the nature of man”? Why is this distinction made?
    • In what is a given individual educated, within Kant’s historical scheme of progressive enlightenment? How does or should an education in the nineteenth century differ from one in the twenty-first?
    • How does Kant’s optimism about human nature inform his theory?
    • Are all of man’s faculties to be educated to an equal degree, and if unequally, why and how?

Summary question: What are the salient points of Enlightenment educational theory, as you find the commonalities between these three writers, and what do those points mean in each writer’s description of the practical task of educating children?

Further reading:

  1. Mark Blitz, “Basic Issues in Kant’s Moral and Political Thought”
  2. Jerry Combee and Martin Plax, “Rousseau’s Noble Savage and European Self-Consciousness”
  3. Stephen J. Tonsor, “The Father of Totalitarian Democracy: Jean-Jacques Rousseau”
  4. Gerhart Niemeyer, “Enlightenment to Ideology” Part One and “Enlightenment to Ideology” Part Two

Lesson 6: The 19th Century

  1. John Henry Cardinal Newman, The Idea of a University, Discourse V
    • What should a university that does not publicly commit itself to any religious dogma teach, in light of Newman’s summation of all knowledge in God?
    • May a “philosophical habit” be formed by the study of any handful of subjects? Must a particular curriculum be prescribed?
    • What does Newman’s use of the word “gentleman” mean? What sort of gentility is at stake?
    • What is Newman’s meaning for “perfection,” and how is it like or unlike other perfections already discussed?
  2. William Graham Sumner, “Integrity in Education”
    • Is it proper to speak of educational “theory,” and if so, why is it needed?
    • To what does Sumner attribute superficiality in education, and are its cause and form peculiarly modern?
    • What is Sumner’s apologia for public or “common” education? Could the same argument be made by others thinkers encountered in this course?
    • Is “sensationalism” inescapably part of democratic education?
  3. John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address Delivered to the University of Saint Andrews, 1867
    • What is Mill’s definition of perfection?
    • Why would Mill have both the classics and the sciences taught, and does he assign a greater weight in the curriculum to either one or the other?
    • What, if anything, does Mill’s philosophical utilitarianism have to do with his educational theories?
    • Does the eclipse of Newtonian physics by general relativity and quantum mechanics invalidate Mill’s argument about the uses of science?
    • What do larger notions of “progress” or “perfection” have to do with Mill’s recommended course of study?

Summary question: How do the nineteenth-century writers inherit, revise, and reject the traditions of the classical world, Christianity, and humanism?

Further reading:

  1. John Angus Campbell, “John Stuart Mill, Charles Darwin, and the Culture Wars: Resolving a Crisis in Education”
  2. Henry T. Edmondson III, John Dewey and the Decline of American Education
  3. Charles Leslie Glenn, Jr., The Myth of the Common School
  4. William L. Burton, “The Conservatism of William Graham Sumner”
  5. John Chamberlain, “William Graham Sumner and the Old Republic”

Lesson 7: The 20th Century

  1. Dorothy Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning”
    • What is the relationship between the tools of learning and its object, the traditio handed down from teacher to student?
    • Distinguish Sayers’ theory of “child development” from modern theories. What does she assume about a child that, say, John Dewey does or does not?
    • What is the importance of form to education? Of content?
  2. Albert Jay Nock, The Theory of Education in the United States, VI-VII & XIV
    • Do the three constituent parts (equality, democracy, universal literacy) of what Nock calls the American theory of education ineluctably breed a lack of education?
    • Is Nock’s “formative knowledge” an end in itself?
    • Are Greek, Latin, and mathematics the proper subjects of a liberal course of study?
  3. Eric Voegelin, “On Classical Studies”
    • What is the proper study of man, and why is it so?
    • Is metalepsis essential to education? Explain why or why not.
    • What is it about the disciplines Voegelin enumerates that force their practitioners to the “question of truth”?

Summary question: Is the classical curriculum centered on Greek and Latin the sole hope for liberal education in the (post)modern age?

Further reading:

  1. Richard Weaver, “Education and the Individual”
  2. E. Christian Kopff, The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition
  3. Robert M. Thornton, “A Stroll with Albert Jay Nock”
  4. Gerhart Niemeyer, “The Glory and Misery of Education”
  5. Hugh Mercer Curtler, Recalling Education

Lesson 8: Modern American higher education

  1. Russell Kirk, “Decadence in the American University”
    • What are the responsibilities of the citizen of the “republic of letters” (in Nock’s phrase) or the “republic of Academe” (in Kirk’s)?
    • For what life should a college graduate be prepared?
    • Is education, rather than training, possible on the scale of the state university?
  2. R.V. Young, “The University Possessed”
    • To whom should a Great Books curriculum be taught?
    • What is the difference between an “Enlightenment university” and the colleges that Young identifies as keeping liberal education going? Does this difference matter for the future of education?
    • Is the battle for liberal education futile in view of societal forces such as widespread divorce and, for Bloom, rock music?
  3. Irving Babbitt, Chapter IV, “Literature and the College” from Literature and the American College
    • Are the arts to blame for the sciences’ dominance in higher education?
    • Do the liberal arts need to be taught and learned hierarchically?
    • What is the telos of the liberal arts college—what Babbitt calls the “small college”?

Summary question: Can the liberal arts be taught at a large state university today, or is their teaching possible only in a small liberal-arts college?

Further reading:

  1. Hugh Mercer Curtler, “A Plea for Humanistic Education”
  2. Stephen J. Tonsor, “Redefining Liberal Education”
  3. George Panichas, The Critical Legacy of Irving Babbitt
  4. George Panichas, “Education for All Time”
  5. Barry Bercier, The Skies of Babylon: Diversity, Nihilism, and the American University
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