Friday, June 15, 2018

'Where Excellences May Be Heard'

One of the most valuable (and, not so incidentally, well-written) books I know of devoted to education is Michael Oakeshott’s essay collection The Voice of Liberal Learning (1989). Included is “A Place of Learning,” first published in 1975. Oakeshott writes wisely and against the spirit of the age:

“Each of us is born in a corner of the earth and at a particular moment in historical time, lapped round with locality. But school and university are places apart where a declared learner is emancipated from the limitations of his local circumstances and from the wants he may happen to have acquired, and is moved by intimations of what he has never yet dreamed. He finds himself invited to pursue satisfactions he has never yet imagined or wished for. They are, then, sheltered places where excellences may be heard because the din of local partialities is no more than a distant rumble. They are places where a learner is initiated into what there is to be learned.”

Schools are meant to be conduits for tradition, where the young inherit the gifts of our culture. They have become, instead, daycare centers devoted to social engineering. Oakeshott writes in another essay, “Learning and Teaching” (1965):

“To initiate a pupil into the world of human achievement is to make available to him much that does not lie upon the surface of the present world. An inheritance will contain much that may not be in current use, much that has come to be neglected and even something that for the time being is forgotten. And to know only the dominant is to become acquainted with only an attenuated version of this inheritance.”

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