What is education for?

As higher education costs and student loan debt continue to rise, the value of a college education has been a hot topic. John Fea of Messiah College recently linked to Leon Wieseltier’s defense of the liberal arts, in which Wieseltier attacked UnCollege (led by Dale Stephens) and, as an aside, homeschooling. I support homeschooling, and from Wieseltier’s description UnCollege is not really that bad. But Wieseltier is right that education is often to narrowly defined as being about “competitiveness.”

But can a fractured culture like ours really expect public education to aspire to the heights that Wieseltier and Fea want?

On another note, I found this article by Diana Senechal in The American Educator (the journal of the American Federation of Teachers) surprisingly good. She also defends a liberal arts education.

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One comment

  1. Leon Wieseltier’s bias is pretty far out there, particularly on homeschooling, where his coup de grace invokes Adam Lanza’a massacre of schoolchildren as the result. Surely public liberal education would have fixed Lanza! Spoken like a man with a hammer and hindsight. All of which ironically leads me to question the quality of Wieseltier’s own education.

    I agree with you that they are idealizing liberal education. I also agree that focusing on “competitiveness” can be a problem, not because being competitive is bad, but because education is a bottom-up endeavour and should not to be dictated from the top.

    By contrast, Diana Senechal’s enthusiasm and liberating tangents across traditional boundaries of art and science is great. The key being that she has the mastery to follow the interests of the students with those tangents and even to excite wonder and engender desire to learn because she evinces its value to them. The examples she gives of her own memories of college center on that same liberty and individual enthusiasm.

    And while I like TED talks, I think Senechal is right that we can overly focus on big ideas, while the little ideas and miniscule, indirect accomplishments are undervalued and dismissed, even as they set the stage for the truly substantive big ideas.

    Wieseltier reminds me of: “It’s a myth that school is good for socialization“. Trunk has some nice posts on homeschooling.

    I also enjoy Peter Grey’s blog on Psychology Today, “Freedom to Learn” on educational matters from a perspective of liberty.

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