The Essentials of Education

A traveler studies the menu on a transatlantic liner or, indeed, in some American hotels a paralyzing sensation. There is so much to eat–for more than he can possibly digest. One sometimes has the same feeling about education, which also offers an enormous bill of fare. Almost any dish can be found in it, from Greek to stenography, from music to economics. How are we to choose from the bewildering profusion? What dishes ought we to order if we wish not merely to fill ourselves up, but to get the nourishment necessary to a healthy life, to become really educated people?

That question cannot be answered without asking and answering another–what is education for? If that problem were suddenly put to pupils in school, at to students in college, or even to their parents, I doubt if all of them could, on the spur of the moment, give a clear and convincing reply. Most of us are educated because our parents with it, or because attendance at school is a habit of our society, or because it is compulsory, or because it is apparently necessary to success in be conclusive reasons for desiring education or, at any getting from it what it has to give; and if we go to back of out minds, we are likely to rise from our meal there replete perhaps but ill-nourished. Let me, therefore, start by asking what we should seek in education. In answering this question, I shall ignore to concentrate on the most important of all.

Get hold of the catalogues of the colleges in the United States. You will find courses in innumerable subjects. Is there any common feature in these courses? Is there any aim which all of them have? I think that there is a common feature and that every course given has a similar aim. They all aim at the first-rate; the purpose of every course is to help the student to learn what is first-rate in the particular subject which he studies. If it is a course in English, the aim is that he should know what is good English; if it is a course in agriculture, that he should know the best methods in framing; if it is a course in cookery or in dressmaking, it is to show the pupil how to cook or to make dresses really well. The same is true of a course in any other subject–its aim is to show what is first-rate in that subject. This is the common thread that runs through all education. Whether we are teachers or students, we ought to get firmly in our minds the idea that whatever else may come by the way, education will be incomplete and unsatisfactory if it fails to give a clear view of what if first-rate in the subject studied. Otherwise we may have got some knowledge, but we shall not have got education.

Educated activities spring from the creative and intellectual faculties of human nature, such as literature, art, architecture and music. I should life to add sciences and architecture, but in these two subjects it is difficult for any but the expert to estimate quality, and many educated people have not the close knowledge necessary to judge work in them. On the other hand everyone has close and daily contract with the other four. Architecture surrounds him in every city, literature meets him on every bookstall, music assails his ears on his radio set and form and color is a part of daily life. The architecture may often be bad, the literature and music often puerile, the art often undeserving of the name; but that is all the more reason why we should be able, in all of then, to distinguish good from bad.

To judge by the literature offered us in hotel bookstands, and by most of the music played on the radio and by juke-boxes, we might be more discriminating in these fields than we are. If it be said that music and art and literature are not essentials of life but its frills, I would reply that, if so, it is curious that they are among the few immortal things in the world, and that, should a man which to be remembered two thousand years hence, the only certain way is to write a great poem or book, compose a great symphony, paint a great picture, carve a great sculpture, or build a great picture. If you have any doubts about this, consider why long-dead people like, Plato and Shakespeare, Michelangelo and Raphael, Ictinus and Bramante, are remembered today.