Newman, education and context

by Kathleen van Schaijik

Ben Brown is right when he points out that a liberal education is neither sufficient nor necessary for salvation. But I doubt anyone here would disagree with him on that score. He also may well be right to caution us against a certain instrumentalization of knowledge—as if intellectual cultivation was worthwhile only insofar as it improved our moral or religious condition, or enhanced our professional skills. It is good to keep pressing the point that it is something valuable-in-itself.

But, still, I agree with those who think he goes too far when he so decisively separates the intellect and the will.

And we should keep context in mind. Newman was writing in a social climate that absurdly exaggerated the value of a liberal education—treating it as if it could replace religion in reforming society and bringing about the happiness of mankind. Therefore he was right to stress the limits of knowledge as such. Susan Fischer was writing in a social climate that underrates liberal education—treating it as worthless or dispensible because it isn’t “practical.” Therefore it was right for her to stress its high value. When Newman speaks of “liberal Knowledge” “considered in itself” he was expressly isolating it from a religion. Susan Fischer was explicitly speaking of liberal education within a “milieu” of faith; she was contrasting it with a merely technical training, which can result in narrowness and bigotry even among religious persons.

Other Newman quotes show how far he was from denying the ultimately religious aim of education in a wider sense.

When he became a tutor at Oxford, “he told his sister Harriet that he saw the tutorship as a spiritual undertaking and not ‘merely a secular office’.” (Ker’s biography, p.27)

Later, in the Tamworth Reading Room letters, he wrote, “Christianity, and nothing short of it, must be made the element and principle of all education. Where it has been laid as the first stone, and acknowledged as the governing spirit, it will take up into itself, assimilate, and give a character to literature and science. Where Revealed Truth has given the aim and direction to Knowledge, Knowledge of all kinds will minister to Revealed Truth.” (Discussions and Arguments, p. 274-5)

Being “taken up into” Christianity, the pursuit of liberal knowledge becomes inextricably bound up with the pursuit of total human perfection. This is especially true of theology, which Newman gives so high a place at a Catholic university. Knowledge of the Divine, acquired in a setting of faith, cannot help but leave an imprint on our souls.

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The importance of engaging questions about our campus culture, Mark Fischer Professionalism—primary or secondary?, Susan Hunt The Nature, Purpose and Value of Public Discourse, Franciscan University Student Forum Prize announcements, the editors The will and the intellect are inseparable, Martha L. Blandford Preparing students to compete in the global economy, Peter Cole Education not limited to the mind, Susan C. Fischer According to the Tradition, education aims beyond the intellect, Matthew Fish Happy & sad, Kathleen van Schaijik Oxford gaining on Shakspere, Kathleen van Schaijik Of private and collegiate morality, Kathleen van Schaijik Newman, education and context, Kathleen van Schaijik Witnesses to Faith in the face of death, Kathleen van Schaijik Viva the class of ‘99!, Kathleen van Schaijik A prize winning physicist out of his depth, Kathleen van Schaijik A positive psychology, Kathleen van Schaijik How to become a leader, Kathleen van Schaijik Campus politics, Kathleen van Schaijik Thanksgiving, Kathleen van Schaijik

Same topic: core curriculum

I,1 Shouldn’t we have a real core curriculum at Franciscan University?, John F. Crosby I,2 What is a ‘real’ Catholic education?, Kathleen van Schaijik I,2 Core curriculum (1), R.J. Convery I,2 Core curriculum (2), Jim Fox I,3 Core curriculum (3), Katherine Kemmis I,4 Core curriculum and anti-intellectualism, Adam Tate I,5 Core curriculum and critical thinking, Joseph A. Loizzo I,6 Core curriculum (4), Regis Martin I,7 Making ‘the connection’: A Steubenville education, Regina Schmiedicke I,7 A defense of a diversified core, Mark Fischer II,1 In reply to Mark Fischer’s defense of the present core curriculum, John F. Crosby II,2 More on the curriculum debate, Mark Fischer II,3 Last words on the core, John F. Crosby IV,4 What liberal educators may not omit, Regis Martin IV,5 Dr. Martin does it again, Joanna K. M. Bratten IV,5 FUS needs to get more practical about education, Peter Cole IV,5 Why non-liberal majors need a liberal core, Susan C. Fischer IV,6 The real purpose of liberal education, Ben Brown IV,7 The will and the intellect are inseparable, Martha L. Blandford IV,7 Preparing students to compete in the global economy, Peter Cole IV,7 Education not limited to the mind, Susan C. Fischer IV,7 According to the Tradition, education aims beyond the intellect, Matthew Fish V,1 More on the aim of education: Ben Brown replies to his critics, Ben Brown V,2 Preparing FUS graduates for the modern world, Jason Negri V,3 Liberal arts and professional programs: a reply to Jason Negri, Ben Brown V,3 Let’s improve our stats, Sofia Genato V,3 The ideal of perfecting the mind is timeless, Michael Houser V,3 Cultivating the intellect, Anne Schmiesing V,5 The eternally practical liberal arts, Timothy J. Williams V,5 Computers and liberal learning, Ben Brown V,6 Liberal arts with professional training: the best of both worlds, Thomas E. Kelly V,7 Education is not primarily about preparing to evangelize in the workplace, Ben Brown V,7 The God gap in the workplaces of the world, Peter Cole V,8 Arrogant idealism, Jason Negri

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