November 16th, 2005


Higher Education and Self-Justification

From the essay "Higher Education and Home Defense" by Wendell Berry

"Education in the true sense, of course, is an enablement to serve-both the living human community in its natural household or neighborhood and the precious cultural possessions that the living community inherits or should inherit. To educate is, literally, to "bring up," to bring young people to a responsible maturity, to help them to be good caretakers of what they have been given, to help them to be charitable toward fellow creatures. Such an education is obviously pleasant and useful to have; that a sizable number of humans should have it is probably also one of the necessities of human life in this world. And if this education is to be used well, it is obvious that it must be used some where: it must be used where one lives, where on intends to continue to live; it must be brought home.

When educational institutes educate people to leave home, then they have redefined education as "career preparation." In doing so, they have made it a commodity-something to be bought in order to make money. The great wrong in this is that it obscures the fact that education-real education-is free. I am necessarily well aware that schools and books have a cost that must be paid, but I am sure nevertheless that what is taught and learned is free. None of us would be so foolish as to suppose that the worth of a good book is the same as the money value of its paper and ink or that the worth of a good teaching could be computed in salaries. What is taught and learned is free-priceless, but free. To make a commodity of education, then, is inevitably to make a kind of weapon of it because, when it is dissociated from the sense of obligation, it can be put directly to the service of greed."


I attend a weekly Orthodox Catechism class each Tuesday night. I am not a Catechumen, I am a curious spectator. The things that were elaborated on last night have been rumbling through my mind these last few hours.