I was listening to this podcast concerning how students aren’t ready for college. In particular, what they have read in their educational or personal lives is rather deficient. Instead of offering the best of the best for them to read, colleges instead replace classics with forgettable, trendy books.
So while colleges are falling down on their job of broadening minds and overcoming prejudices — through the abandoning of classical education — what about the student or not going to college? What about the person who doesn’t care about reading the classics or doesn’t think it’s necessary?
As educator and writer Susan Wise Bauer writes, “A classical education is valuable [even] for people who hate Homer.” In her book The Well-Trained Mind, she describes the frustration of employers who are expected to prepare people for life in the world. Many graduates of high school “can’t write, don’t read well, can’t think through a problem.”
Bauer writes that, “A well-trained mind is a necessity” no matter your path in life, and even though a “classical education is not intended to teach all subjects comprehensively,” it is designed to teach us how to learn.
But it goes further than that. There’s something deeply fascinating about reading books that have often endured for centuries. They reveal our past and our history. It allows us to join what Mortimer J. Adler named the “Great Conversation” which is the “ongoing conversation of great minds down through the ages.”
And there is the rub: Perhaps at no time in history have we had such a widespread hubris in society. We think those who came before us can’t possibly have anything to teach us.
The truth is that we wouldn’t be here without them. They experienced far more great events — and terrible disasters — than we can imagine. Our civilization is built on their millennia of knowledge. We mistakenly believe many of our contemporary issues are new — rarely are they.
Schooling, at all levels, can be very important in achieving your purpose. Increasingly, though, secondary education has lost its way, forgotten its purpose. These institutions that were built on an idea that stretches back to the Middle Ages — Western Civilization’s contribution of the university — is in terrible trouble. However that all may play out, realize this:
Your education, your mind, and where you take them, is solely up to you. “Being smart” is not based on the decision of others, but what you decide to be. Be part of the Great Conversation and rise above fast-food-internet “knowledge.” See beyond the selfish views that act like we are the first to walk the Earth. The voices of our ancestors left many lessons for us. One in particular stands out.
When they forgot what truly mattered in their lives, they lost it all.