It is downright dishonest to publish ideas that one has received from another without any sort of attribution! Therefore in the matter of slavery and its various species and definitions and relevance to liberal education, I must profess that I am indebted to Dr. Duane Berquist, who is a true philosopher. On the other hand if there be any confusions or errors in my own presentation I do not attribute these to Dr Berquist.
Given the fact that the word liberal in the phrase Liberal education comes from a Latin word signifying a free man (or the son of a free man), we might guess that the phrase liberal education has something to do with freedom. And we would be right. Liberal education is the education that frees the human person. But from what? And for what?
Liberal education is only understood when it is understood in reference to the various sorts of slavery from which it frees us. And ultimately it can only be understood when we consider that for which liberal education frees us. But for the time being let us only consider the slavery from which it frees us- or rather slaveries!
There are exactly four horrible kinds of slavery from which liberal education frees students and they are – to wit
- the slavery to passion
- The slavery to fashion
- the slavery to custom
- the slavery to error
Now that these forms of slavery are horrible is something that we should consider. That all of us and our children suffer from all four to a greater or lesser extent is also something that we should ponder. The only thing worse than being enslaved to another is to not know that one is enslaved to another. The great Heraclitus once said (in his fragmentary way) “Most men live as if asleep.” Surely he was describing all of those who think they are directing their own actions and thoughts, when in fact they are acting and speaking according to a master of whom they are not even aware.
Perhaps those who let their passions dictate their words and actions are aware of their slavery, but how much more difficult it is to recognize the subtle influence of intellectual custom on our words and actions. Teachers witness first hand the force of custom on the minds of students who will say and assert things boldly (as if their assertions were obvious truths impossible to be doubted), but don’t seem to realize that they are speaking not so much with consciousness of truth or falsity, but rather according to the custom of the time or place in which they happen to live. Custom wields a powerful and subtle sway over our thoughts about nearly everything.
We should spend more time identifying these four forms of slavery- and consider what kind of school and what course of study could possibly claim to free its students from such powerful masters.