More on the aim of education: Ben Brown replies to his critics
by Ben Brown
When I originally wrote my response to Mrs. Fischer on education, I must admit that I thought the purpose of education I was advancing was something with which virtually everyone would agree. The replies to my article make it apparent that that was not the case. Therefore, I would like to try again, this time taking into consideration the helpful comments of my critics.
I think that the issue can be clarified by making three key distinctions. The first distinction is between the end of something and the means used to achieve that end. As before, I maintain that the end of education is the formation of the intellect, not the formation of the will. That does not, however, mean that education should have nothing at all to do with religion and the will, or that it treats the student as an intellect divorced from the person as a whole. In fact, for education to do its job properly, theology is a must. Newman was at great pains to show that that is the case, as Mrs. van Schaijik pointed out. Note, however, that theology is primarily something of the intellect, a study of God and the supernatural, the use of reason to help understand our faith. That theology is a necessary part of education should not surprise us. How can one gain a “vision of the whole” if one leaves out the most important part of that whole, the supernatural.
Education must also work with the will. Mrs. Blandford points out that great effort of will (i.e. discipline) is needed for a student to be educated—a very good point. But discipline in the context of education is a means to an end; one has and develops discipline so that one can be a better student. My saying that education “has to do with the intellect, not with the will” refers only to the end of education, not to its means. Naturally, for the mind to be formed, both intellect and will must cooperate; likewise with moral formation. It is the person who is educated, not some dissociated mind. But that in no way prevents education from aiming at the intellect as its end while at the same time taking into consideration the whole person (will, emotions, appetites, bodiliness, the heart, etc.) in its methodology. Neither does it mean that the will is not in any way formed along with the intellect; certainly it is. But such formation is not the reason for going to a university; it is largely secondary, which is Newman’s point about the “gentlemen”. We do not get an education to become good (in the moral sense), but rather to become capable of seeing and grasping Truth. An important point, though, is that this has a quite religious orientation! The perfection of our intellect, the formation of it in accordance with Truth, is actually part of a full religious life, for it is part of conforming ourselves to God, of remaking ourselves in God’s image. We might also note that education is further religiously oriented because in conferring knowledge of creation it also confers knowledge of God, in whose image creation has been made.
The second distinction I would offer is between the immediate and secondary ends of education. I have been talking about the immediate end of education, the end which is proper to the essence of education in itself. My opponents seem mostly to be talking about a secondary, Christian end of education—an end superadded (not in the sense of adding something not already there, but in the sense of realizing and bringing to fruition what is intrinsically already contained within) to education when viewed in the context of Christianity. Mr. Fish notes that within the Christian tradition, education has always had the aim of leading one to “a greater love and service of our Lord.” I agree completely, but I think that here Mr. Fish, along with Mrs. Fischer and Mrs. van Schaijik, fails to see the difference between education taken in itself and education in a religious context. Christianity can make great use of education, and has done so almost from its birth. And the individual person also can make great use of it, even for his salvation.
The ultimate end of man is union with God in heaven, and everything we do here on earth should be for the sake of that end. Saying that a cultivated intellect is an end in itself does not, however, undermine the fact that there is ultimately one end, namely, God. In fact, the very reason that a cultivated intellect can be an end in itself is because it is so constituted as to be inherently ordered to our final end. The perfection of ourselves is something which intrinsically brings us closer to God. But the ultimate purpose for one’s existence, even if part of that existence is spent being educated, is something different from the end of education in itself. The end, the final product, of the educational process is the properly formed mind, but the ultimate end of the educated man, as with all men, is love and service of God, for which education can be an instrument. We can quite properly say, at one and the same time, that the end of education is both the cultivated intellect and the love and service of God. The key point, though, is that the latter end exists only because the former does first (first logically, not temporally). That is, education already contains within a certain perfection of the human person and a certain orientation to knowledge of God (through knowledge of creation), and it is only because of that it can be “Christianized.”
The third distinction I would offer is between education generally and Christian education. The very fact that we have to use modifiers like “religious” and “Christian” to talk about certain types of education means that there must be some more general, more foundational essence of education which is not either religious or Christian, which is what I have been talking about. My critics seem for the most part to take Christian education to be the very essence of education. It may be the best of education, even education most proper, but I do not think that it is the essence thereof. Many of the sources in the tradition which my critics quote are talking about strictly Christian education. Rather than take Christian education to be the only real education, I think it better to first talk about education more generally, and then talk about Catholic or Christian education as the best education. Secular education, insofar as it is education, has inherent within it the religious orientation of which I have spoken, but that orientation is partly left undeveloped. Knowledge is not incorporated into or taught from a religious perspective, and so does not draw out and develop in its students those things which it has the ability to do in a Christian context.
To conclude, a couple of concrete examples might help. Take St. Francis. He was largely uneducated, and yet had some of the most highly developed moral virtues of anyone in history. We can conclude from this that one does not need education to be good, something with which I think all my readers will be in complete agreement. Now take someone like Max Scheler. There can be no doubt that he was a very well educated man, and yet he struggled with certain serious sins all of his life. But that does not mean that he was uneducated or that his education was a failure. And even when he left the Church he did not cease to be educated, precisely because he retained what is essential to education, namely a cultivated intellect. One’s intellect and will are certainly both damaged in personal sin, and conversely, one’s intellect is naturally strengthened in accordance with one’s development of moral virtue, but it does not thereby follow that the end of education is both formation of mind and will. It only follows that prudent educators will have an eye to both, and that Christian educators will not lose sight of the inherently religious orientation of education. Both must be sought together, to an extent, in order for education to achieve its end, but its end is still the one and not the other. Being just is certainly more important than knowing what justice is, but being more important does not make it education.
Finally, I would like to retract, to an extent, the harshness of my earlier criticism of Mrs. Fischer. She responds by reminding me of my own point concerning Newman’s gentleman, which her liberally educated nurse exemplifies. I should have given more attention to that point initially. However, I still think that Mrs. Fischer’s statements concerning the technical nurse imply that in order for her to become a compassionate nurse it is simply a matter of education, which is what I reacted against. Newman fought strenuously against an attitude prevalent in his day that simply educating people would make them such good and productive citizens that much of society’s problems would disappear (cf. the Tamworth Reading Room Letters). While I am sure that this is not Mrs. Fischer’s idea, it nonetheless seems to have a certain kinship with hers. If a certain nurse is as uncaring as Mrs. Fischer portrays, then she needs more than education. Much as I esteem a liberal arts education, I cannot see how it either aims at or actually succeeds in producing a morally virtuous person, despite all of its tendencies in this direction if harnessed by religious faith, and despite all historical uses as such.
There are, of course, a great many issues, both directly and indirectly related to this debate, that I have not touched upon. And I am sure that my critics are not completely satisfied, if at all; I have by no means answered all of their historical objections, which are in some ways the most difficult. I hope, therefore, that they will respond and bring to attention those points that I have overlooked or passed over, and I hope others will write in with further ideas, comments, clarifications, and objections. This is a particularly important issue for us as the core curriculum committee is working on possible changes to the manner in which FUS educates its students.
Ben Brown is a senior philosophy/math/computer science major, President of the Franciscan University Student Association and Contributing Editor of the Concourse.