Education Through Wit
In a recent issue of the Harvard Alumni Bulletin, Raphael Demos, Lecturer on Philosophy at that haven of intellect, discusses "Some Aspects of a Liberal Education." Since he is striving after clarification rather than novelty, his maxims, isolated in italic type, have a familiar ring. "The aim of a liberal education is to arouse the sense of wonder," he says. "The aim of education is to break the stranglehold of the present." "And the aim of a liberal education is to arouse the young man to a keener awareness." To the common conception of liberal education as a conspiracy to arouse the sense of wonder it may be reasonably objected that men who make no pretense of being educated have a large capacity for wonder. To the man in the street, the man in the office and the man in the shop life is a constant struggle among wonders, many of which induce the profoundest misgivings. "A man is educated if he has been led to feel that things may not be as they seem," Mr. Demos observes. During this period of heart-searching and apprehension most men are being educated in that sense.
Further on in his discussion Mr. Demos particularizes his conceptions of the hall-marks of the educated man:
Plato says that education is the turning of the entire soul to the good. This conception seems to lead us into the perilous territory of edification, where even angels should fear to tread. William James is on much safer ground when he says that an educated person is one who can tell a good man when he sees him. Education helps character to the extent that it builds up a critical faculty which can see the good from the bad. * * * (The educated man) is intellectually honest; he is conscious of what he has and of what he has not.
In so general and abstract a discussion Mr. Demos has very little time to distinguish the man who is formally educated in college from the man who educates himself by experience, reflection and by training his mind. Formal education has certain immense advantages. The deliberate breadth of the instruction offered, the association with professional teachers and with other students, stimulate the mind before contact with the world has paralyzed it with routine. But college instruction, as every college instructor agrees, has no exclusive rights to wonder, awareness, judgment and intellectual honesty. Although many educated men have degrees after their names, the will to be educated, which is the first essential, does not require tuition fees.
To break the "stranglehold of the present," as Mr. Demos vividly describes it, the past is the most effective weapon. For the present is the product of the past and the promise of the future. In order to live wisely in the present moment it is necessary to have a sense of the continuity of time and an awareness of the fact that those who made history, wrote books and created ideas were fully alive in their present. That is the teacher's function; to awaken and communicate the life of the past. If the past is distrusted, it is because the teachers have not enkindled it, and the students have not burst into flame. Discussing the university don in one of his aromatic essays, George Santayana says: "Yet dry learning and much chewing of the cud take the place amongst them of the two ways men have of really understanding the world--science, which explores it, and sound wit, which estimates humanly the value of science and of everything else." The educated man, whether he has been to college or not, comes ultimately to rely upon mother wit and his horse-sense. New York Times.