First among the signs of intellectual maturity we would wish for an ideal person is the achievement of an insight into his own make-up, a realistic understanding of his own assets and liabilities, an understanding of his own dominant trends and motivations … Lawrence E. Cole
Before you skip over the above quotation, try an experiment with it. For each pronoun, substitute “I” or “my.” For ideal person substitute “myself.” How suddenly pertinent the generalized words become! Now the quotation says in effect: if I am to be a mature person, I will know what I am, where I’m strong and weak, and where I am aiming my life.
Where are you aiming your life? This may sound like too broad or moralistic a question. But what life means is and always has been the main concern of education. Education, fundamentally, is a moral enterprise. Harvard’s President Nathan Pusey recently said: “The chief aim of undergraduate education is to discover what it means to be a man. This has always to be done in personal, individual terms.” For you to discover the meaning of maturity and the direction of your life is therefore an inclusive aim of your studies. Presumably you are in college because you want an education. You might well ask the next two logically inevitable questions: What is an education? Why do I want it?
The first question is, of course, difficult; it has almost as many answers as there are people who try to respond to it. And in the current literature on education, there are literally yards of library shelves taken up with books that discuss the matter. But there are some clear and useful general ideas on the meaning of an education that should help you think about it for yourself in practical and immediate terms.
Obviously, an education is something more than the acquiring of mere information. Pieces of knowledge, no matter how largely accumulated, are dead lumps unless you know what to do with them. As one philosopher put it bluntly, ”A merely well-informed man is the most useless bore on God’s earth.” Yet the culture in which we live seems to put large and often spectacular premiums on the possession of factual knowledge. It would not be surprising, for example, if you have been impressed, and perhaps influenced, by the television and radio quiz programs of the past decade: winners in these fact-derbies have often walked away with fortunes in money and goods-. Clearly, at least in this limited activity, the possession of great stores of random facts has a measurable pay-off. Yet actually there is little qualitative difference between the responses of quiz contestants in various categories of “knowledge,” and the old-fashioned circus and vaudeville performances of trained animals who can “count,” “talk,” and perform other feats of “reasoning.” Both quiz contestants and trained animals perform under special, limited conditions.
But life is never as tidy or controlled as a quiz program; in real living, the rewards usually go to the person who knows when and how to ask the right questions-not to the person who has sets of answers to predetermined questions. Life never has any predetermined questions either; it has only problems which must be coped with and dilemmas which rarely, if ever, come when they are supposed to, in the form they should.
To use the word “problems” is to presuppose questions. Most real learning starts with questions. One distinction between the educated person and the ignorant person is awareness of the importance of questions. The ignorant person is satisfied with answers; the educated person realizes that answers have limitations because they usually signal an end to investigation. There is nothing more empty or irrelevant than the answer to a question that nobody asks.
You can be given answers. You can be well trained without being well educated.
For instance, if you want to be a trained engineer, you can find :many institutions where superior engineering training is available; and if you work faithfully and intelligently at your courses, you will graduate as a trained engineer. If you want to be an educated engineer, you can manage that, too, and at those same institutions, but only after you develop some clear ideas about the differences between education and training, and after you understand what one is and the other is not. Training is good, training is necessary, and training is a key part of education. To be trained means that one is fitted or qualified in the doing of something.
In our complicated and competitive society, training in some skill is imperative. But to be educated is to know not only how to do, but to understand the meaning and significance of what one does. An educated person knows how and when to ask why of his own activity. Too often the trained man, like the expert, knows’ everything about his job except what it is for.
I agree wholly with A. N. Whitehead’s comment: “There can be no adequate technical education which is not liberal, and no liberal education which is not technical: that is, no education which does not impart both technique and intellectual vision. Education should turn out the pupil with something he knows well and something he can do well.
There are endless illustrations in any business, and sometimes in the professions, of the differences between a merely trained man and an educated one. Recently, I took a group of students on a field trip to one of the country’s largest manufacturers of rugs and carpets. We planned to make a two-hour tour of the factory, followed by a seminar with some of the management people qn matters of the company’s labor relations, rates of pay, employee status, and the like. Our guides for the tour were two friendly young men, both of whom half moved up from factory jobs and were now studying in the company’s Management Education program as potential executives: hs the tour began, we divided into two groups, with a guide for each. Throughout the tour, I alternated from group to group, listening as the guides explained production flow, various types of looms, the designing of rugs and carpets and all the operations going on in front of us.
I soon noticed some pointed differences between our two guides. Though both were courteous and obviously knew their way around the complex factory processes, one of them seemed limited in’ his knowledge and understanding: When we stood by a loom or a sizing machine, he spoke surely and with authority; telling us in detail how the machine worked, what skills were needed to run it; and how it related to the sequence of operations in the factory. But when the students asked him questions about labor and manufacturing costs, sources of raw material, or any queries, in fact, which went beyond immediate functions, hisreplies were evasive and vague. He admitted freely ·that he didn’t understand these matters well. “I thought I knew a lot about rugs,” he said, “but all I really know is how to run some of these machines.”
The other guide, however, enlarged his information with comments about the company’s labor policy, the current state of the raw wool market, the economics of marketing and distribution, and the close relation between consumer research and the development of new designs and materials. These added facts were not merely sidelights or garnishing; they were expanded and intelligent attempts to increase the students’ understanding of the total meaning of the work they were observing.
After the tour was over, I thanked our guides. As we talked I found that although both men had worked for several years in the plant and were trained in the use of the machines, the first guide-the one whose comments had been narrowly technical had only that month begun his course in Management Education. The other guide had for eighteen months been taking university night courses in sociology, economics, and human relations, as well as following his regular studies in the Management program. The company’s personnel director said to me later:
“This fellow has all the makings of a fine· executive some day. He knows the technical problems, but he can also think past them. In fact, he knows how to keep on learning about more than just the rug business. We need more men like that. We don’t find enough of them.”
The point is this: an educated person knows enough to ask the kinds of questions that open up, illuminate, and expand a subject, that set it in a new or fresh perspective, and that place it in significant relationships to other subjects.
Let me say again that I have no intention of belittling trained skill, no matter how limited, nor of comparing it unfavorably with a “general education.” All too often, to be “generally” educated means to be a dilettante, shallowly acquainted with much but usefully skilled in nothing-to be a person who, in Whitehead’s phrases, has learned to execute “intellectual minuets” with “inert ideas.” I remember, with sharp and still embarrassing clarity after more than two decades, a history professor who took me aside one morning, waved a sophomore paper I had written (with a C-minus grade) and said: “Young man, this is too slick, too superficial, too smooth on the surface, no texture underneath. You’ve got a good mind; why don’t you dig a well for yourself instead of dilettanting around the edge?” I can still hear his voice. The honest outrage against superficiality of it cultivated, wise man taught me more than I learned in many another full year course.
Up to this point, I have been talking in general terms; obviously the question, “What is an education?” has not been answered except in the vaguest way. Just as you may take many months, or longer, in college to begin to discover for yourself what is meant by “an education,” so it will take me the next dozen chapters even to suggest ways for you to begin to see the fullness of its meaning. In the last analysis, a liberal education is best described in the personal qualities of those who achieve it.
But the second question asked at the beginning of this chapter is almost indistinguishable from the first. You seek a college education. Why?What are you in college for?
Suppose you reply: “I want to be an industrial chemist, and good jobs in chemistry just aren’t given to non-college people.” This is a reasonable and realistic answer. To be a good chemist (or a good anything means much hard preparation first. But if you are asked, “Why do you want to be a chemist?” the answer is more difficult. You may say again, with perfect reasonableness, that industrial chemistry is a respectable, useful, and often creative business, that good chemists make a comfortable living, and that in a technological culture, chemists are needed and effective citizens. These are good answers-solid and rational and practical.
But why do you want to be a chemist? Only to make a good living? Only to be a respectable and useful business or profession? Only to be a working element of society? Are these motives enough for you?
The full answer to this, if there is a full answer, implies far more than surface response about the necessary practical matters of making a living. The further answers you give have much to do with your character. They go deeply and personally to your motives and your hopes for yourself They give your philosophy of life by answering, indirectly, the question, “What is the meaning of your life?” and fundamentally, the question, “What kind of a human being do you want to be?”
These are the hard, tangled, basic questions that education poses when you get to college. And this is why education is essentially a moral venture. It is relatively uncomplicated to get “know-how” training. Industries as well as schools and colleges do a superior job of teaching people how to perform detailed and complicated functions. We in America are an active people partly because we know how to teach one another to build, to, make, to accomplish, and to invent. But education further says to you: learning to do something is fine and necessary, but what are you doing it for? Your trained skill, it says, is a function of your personality, to be sure, but are you merely a functional) or a skill? What more are you? What is the nature of your self? What is the meaning and direction of the group of selves we call society? What is your relation to your fellow men? What is your social function? Your human function?
Put it another way. Education’s main concern is with the nature of decent, enlightened, effective human living-and this is a moral concern. The first goal of a liberal education is your personal growth as a generous-hearted, generous minded human being. “Liberal” means generous and liberal means free. Surely, it is the least to expect of an educated person that he should have matured and become enriched as a person, to be able to think freely, responsibly, and effectively. The world has plenty of experts, but does it have enough people who have both the imagination and the moral courage to make the best uses of the ideas and processes the experts create?
Before you shrug off this sort of talk, I urge you to follow the argument to its conclusion.
I have discovered that these apparently philosophical questions are crucial and real for intelligent college students. In some deep, inarticulate way, you recognize that an effective life is something more than a career, or raising a family, or being a good citizen. You urgently want to find for yourself what that “something more” is. Nor is this desire for inner certainty and purpose exclusive with college students. Many a person, in the midst of a successful career, wishes with inexpressible poignancy that he had begun in his teens to search how to make, sense out of life, how to assert life, how to become a full, productive, serene human being. What kind of a human being do you want to be? What kind of human being are you now? These are not philosophers’ or moralists’ questions only. They are the most practical questions that can be asked.
Let’s see why; You are, after al1, given a legal twenty-one years to catch up with the major ideas and skills and insights of human experience: When you are technically adult, your society depends on you to know how to work with other people and how to behave and depress yourself without hurting others or yourself in t1J.e process. You are expected to bow where you are going, and why. This is what being “grown up” implies. :But the mental clinics and hospitals, jails, office, and streets of our cities and towns are crowded with unhappy, tense, and nervous people who have noticed these fundamental questions about themselves. Moving restlessly from job to job, from pleasure to pleasure, from escape to escape, they try to find happiness bysearching for conditions outside themselves that appear to lead to happiness. They do not seem to recognize that happiness comes from discovering what kind of person you want to be and can be, and then being it, serenely and confidently ..
That is why I am suggesting that a real education (that is, an ultimately useful education) is not only the acquiring of knowledge and skill, but something more fundamental, more complex, and significant.
Obviously, going to college will not guarantee happiness or tell you what kind of human being you ought to be. A lot of triumphs have been claimed for college education, but guaranteed maturity IS not one of them. However, college is one of the few institutions in our society that is deliberately set up to help you explore the nature of human life and its meanings for you. Among all your motives for being in college-the practical ones of career, the general ones of culture, the unexpressed ones of great expectations-you might consider the aim of personal growth, or the opportunity for personal growth, as possibly the most important.
Indeed, this is the first and most inclusive stated purpose of most of the colleges and universities in the United States. At die beginning of nearly every general catalogue of course offerings, colleges state; with varying persuasiveness, the broad and humane aims I have suggested here. I recently examined several dozen of these, and I will quote briefly from two of the most typical. One, from a college division of a large university, reads: ” … [This institution] provides the resources for the fullest personal, professional, and specialized development …. It provides each student with that liberal education best designed for … leadership. It gives him a background … that helps him to understand the human organism …. ” Another, the catalogue of a small, coeducational college reads: ” … The aim of College is to give its students a sound education in preparation for the responsibilities of mature citizenship through the disciplines of a broad, rich, extensive curriculum …. “
You are in college because you are after adult learning. A college, if it lives up to its stated aims and pretensions, says: All right, most of your fact learning and drill and academic training up to now has been preparatory. You have had to learn multiplication tables, grammar, history, natural sciences, and the like, because you must have such facts as tools for any reasonable thinking. You will have to learn many more fact tools while you are at college. But now you are going to be asked in addition, and more pointedly: What good is all this information?
On what bases is it good? These are questions of value and their implications go beyond mere fact knowledge. Questions of value have many levels, depending upon what “values” you are talking about.
A college, if it is doing the job it should, is not and cannot be concerned mainly with stuffing facts into you, or simply training you in a skill, or teaching you how to make a living. A college’s real business is with the creative development of your best personal powers. Its business is to help you to a realistic awareness of yourself as an effective participant in your society. Its business is to lead you to a knowledge and appreciation of the extent and value of the culture that you have inherited. Its business is to stimulate you to develop a wide and open-minded sympathy for values and cultures not your own. Its business is to give you concrete and continuing experience with the meaning of the word “excellent” in both vocational and non-vocational studies. Its total concern is to discipline those capacities of mind and those qualities of personality which are best characterized by the adjective “mature.” (You might look up the word “discipline” in an unabridged dictionary; investigating especially its root meanings from Latin.)
What you truly study when you go to college is not simply algebra, French, biology, English, physics, or sociology. What you study is Man-historically, presently, potentially; Man doing, Man thinking, Man puzzling, Man creating. No matter how genuine your desire or impatience to get at your specialty, whatever it is, you will merely develop a sterile expertise unless you recognize that the study of literature is as much a part of scientific training as advanced calculus, that the study of biology or physics is as much a part of the educating of a future English teacher as a course in Shakespeare, that semantics and sociology are intertwined. Knowledge is seamless; it is not compartmented.
Learning and growth are synonymous. How you learn in college is how you grow in college. You may test the validity of this assertion simply by recalling any recent situation or experience in your life in which you felt yourself grow in any way toward skill, mastery; or capacity to cope with a problem. How you felt during and after such an experience is how learning usually feels.
This can be said in another way by summarizing the function of a college or university: the college exists to help you learn how to think for yourself and how to use the tools of thinking in a grown-up, morally responsible, and socially effective way. This is a large order, a formidable one, both for you and for the college. Of course. Real learning is a formidable undertaking because it involves real thinking. All real thinking is hard; indeed I don’t think there is such a thing as “easy” thinking. (William James once remarked on the “atrocious harmlessness” of most so-called thinking.) Knowledge or insights that are worth anything cannot be watered down or simplified. A real education does not come in prepackaged outlines and digests any more than you as an individual can be labeled, ticketed, and handily indexed under a single category. The complexity of learning is precisely the complexity of the individual in relation to his experience.
To be educated is to be changed, to be enlarged and reoriented as a person. To change is hard. Most of us resist changing or being changed. Yet if you graduate from college with your freshman habits, prejudices, and questions strengthened and more deep-seated, then no matter how much information you absorb, or how impressively you develop a skill or technique, you have not been educated but merely veneered, varnished with a cultural or technical gloss. (Varnish is a durable finish, but exposed to weather over any length of time it cracks, peels, and exposes the bare surface underneath.) Your education is going to be a personal business if it demands that you change yourself It will demand your deep personal commitment, and may therefore be, on more than one occasion, a bewildering, frustrating, and even painful affair.