Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Only Education Worthy of a Student

[As a former educator I like to read about education, commencement addresses and the like.  Inasmuch as this blog is in part at least about “living philosophies” of life, I am pleased to share with you a brief but insightful description of a “liberal education” and marry my interest in education and philosophy.  Happy thinking.]


Let’s be historical for a moment.  When you came here, you came voluntarily. There was no state law compelling you to go to college as there was when you were a pupil. Your pupil days were over when you became a student–a person ready and willing to learn in the true spirit of liberal education, regardless of whatever professional program you followed or plan to pursue. Now an education that is liberal is the only education worthy of a student because its goal is to enhance and enrich the freedom of choice that the student exercised by coming to college in the first place. The word liberal comes from the Latin word libera, from which we derive words like liberty and liberate and so forth.
But libera is in turn derived from the Latin word for book–liber.  The Romans apparently saw a relationship between books and liberty–words and freedom.
In brief, they believed that books put minds in motion, and, once in motion, this permitted thinking men and women to go to the right sources, to reach their own conclusions, to make up their own minds and to be free in the only way that finally matters–intellectually free.
Knowledge derived from books together with other forms of knowledge that came to you from personal experience or from sudden inspirations or insights over the past four years constitute a collective gift. And thus has given you a grounding in culture, which is the very foundation of any progressive human society. And the great educator and author Jacques Barzun has reminded us that the word culture is in turn derived from the word agriculture, which is the science of making raw land better and richer without changing its nature. This is exactly what liberal education does to students.

It enriches them from the time of matriculation until the time of commencement and hopefully makes them better than they were when they started without changing their natures. We use another agricultural term–cultivated–to describe people we consider cultured.

Samuel Hazo, “The Only Way to Be: Your Words Must Contain Justice,” address at Carlow University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 9 May 2009, in Vital Speeches of the Day 75, no. 7 (July 2009): 329-30, emphasis in original.

Let’s think together again soon.

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