rnHigher Education: Learning to Live, or Living to Learn
In the mid 19th century, there was a strong anti-Catholic attitude in Europe. Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was determined to establish a Catholic University in spite of these feelings. In 1852, he wrote The Idea of a University in which he expressed his opinions about what a liberal arts education should be, and what it supposedly would be in a Catholic University (Dunbar-Odam 107). In this essay, Newman made it abundantly clear what his views were as far as what students should learn in a university setting. Newman made statements that pointed toward a strong belief in a wide array of studies in a university. As the essay went on Newman made very strong and reasonable points that lead the reader to see that a broad spectrum of knowledge truly does increase a persons ability to reason and raises their credibility in society. After I read Newmans essay and discussed it thoroughly with my English class, I have come to the opinion that in order to have a truly great nation and society, education must make the society reason and think. In order for a person to be able to reason and think, they must have a broad education. Yet, in order for a nation to survive in the time we live in, there must be experts and people with enormous knowledge in a limited area. Without finding a middle road, truly how long can a great society last?
History has recorded many cultures in their making, in their peak, and in their fall. Rome, for instance, was built much the same as America is today. The government was ruled by the people, for the people. This nation, or should I say empire, was built on the thought that no one man should have total control over the people. As time passed, Rome became greater and greater. It overtook many other nations and became one of the greatest empires ever. Rome became an empire by warring with and conquering any nation that stood in its way. In the beginning Rome was built on ideal philosophies that an empire could grow, learn, reason, and think, and the people could truly rule themselves with fairness and respectability. The people in Rome were educated to the belief that they controlled their government. They were just ordinary people that had the ability to see what needed to be seen. At this time Rome truly was great. The Senate made decisions that were for the best for the people, and life in Rome was good. Yet as time went on people began to forget that they were in control, and they started to focus on making money and being happy for the moment. The Senate became corrupt also, and Rome eventually fell to barbarians. In his essay, Newman stated …and having lived under the influence of no very clear set of principals, religious or political, they speak of everyone and everything only as so many phenomena, which are complete in themselves, and lead to nothing…(Newman 110). When Rome was great, it was great at the grass roots and it was great at the head. People thought for themselves, and saw the big picture of what Rome was and should always remain. When Rome crumbled it did so in the same way. The people were oblivious to anything but themselves, and the Senate was corrupt and uncaring also. Rome came to its peak when its people were able to walk the middle road of education. They had a broad understanding of what their government did, and kept it in check. Yet they kept on track in their own lives and were able to prosper due to expertise in various fields.
Newman says many times throughout his essay that a broader education increases a persons ability to contribute to society. I agree with this. I think that a person needs to have a full understanding of the world and the society they live in. In America we seem to try to seek a middle road. Even though we must have people confined to one field, we also have people who open up their minds to many feilds. It is a necessary evil in all times, in all societies, to push people toward their preferred field and make them educated for that field. Yet as a compensation, a great society needs to educate their people in a way that opens their minds to the possibility of reasoning. A university that engages in a liberal arts type education, is a just a taste of what the our society is today. A student must learn many things in many subject, while at the same time pushing toward their final destination of their choosen major. A society needs to know what is happening in there surroundings, and be able to reason and think. This comes from learning all you can while keeping a focus on the job at hand.
The mistake of human kind is that we always fall to extremes. Religion, for example, has a history full of war, death, and destruction. For instance the Thirty Years War(1618-1648): At first the struggle was primarily based on the profound religious antagonism engendered among Germans by the events of the Protestant Reformation. Religious animosity, especially among non-German adherents of the contending Protestant and Roman Catholic factions, broadened the war and was a substantial factor in its later stages(Encarta Encyclopedia). Many people had to die before at last the Peace of Westphilia was signed in 1648 and the war came to a close.
How is it that something so ideally pure can become contaminated by these vile extremities? The answer is that people fail to reason. People do not stop to think Is what we are doing ethical? Do we have the right to force this on other people?. The perfect society would be one that reasons, perceives and opens up their minds to all that is good and right. But there is one flaw in that statement. We do not live in a perfect world. We live in a world were people hate because of origin or color of skin. There are people out there who reason and think but can we truly say they are the majority? In a perfect world all would be good, everyone would see that people are all humans, subject to flaws and mistakes just like themselves. No, this will never happen. That is why Newmans theory will not stand alone and neither will the theory that all we need is enough education to survive. A middle road must be found or all that a people, a society, a nation, or an empire have worked for will be dust in the wind. In America I embrace the thought that we are still trying to find this middle road, for the day we stop searching will be the day we are overcome by the barbarians.
As I pondered the title for this essay I also thought about what it was that I wanted to say. In class I fiercely disagreed with Newman on his points but I have come to realize that there were flaws in my assessments also. Newman has told his theory with exceptional clarity and judgment yet it seems to me that he was in danger of becoming just what he taught against. He only sees half the picture and seems to shut out what is left. He says a person needs a broad education, he needs to see the big picture, needs to learn what life is about. Well, in the big picture, a society needs the fighters, the thinkers, the historians, the mathematicians, the labor workers, the Government officials and the list goes on.
So, the question is, does Newmans Theory hold water. The answer to that is no. Newmans Theory is comperable to a man trying to stand with one leg. We have to find system of learning, that give people a broad education and yet at the same time prepares them for their various fields. When the people of a society learn to live, while living to learn, that society has achieved what mankind has been striving for since the dawn of time.
Nelson, Otto M.Thirty Years War. Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia. 1993-1998.
Newman, John Henry. Idea of a University 1852. Working With Ideas Readin, Writing, Researching Experience. ed. Donna Dunbar-Odam. Boston: Houghton, 2001: 107-114
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