The “Scandal” of Liberal Education

Blessed John Henry Newman, speaking of the unique status of Western Civilization in the history of the world, emphatically asserts,

I think it has a claim to be considered as the representative Society and Civilization of the human race, as its perfect result and limit…I call then this commonwealth preeminently and emphatically Human Society, and its intellect the Human mind, and its decisions the sense of mankind, and its disciplined and cultivated state Civilization in the abstract, and the territory on which it lies the Orbis Terrarum, or the World.

Now if it wasn’t for the fact that this Cardinal was just beatified, I think we could all brush this statement off  as an overly zealous defense of Western Civilization. After all, sometimes people get carried away and say things that they don’t really mean. For example I will often say things like

I think 100% arabica coffee beans may be considered as the representative coffee bean of civilization and of the human race. Nay even the preeminent coffee bean and even the bean in virtue of which all other beans merit the name “coffee bean.” To the extent that other beans measure up or fall away from the arabica bean, that is the exact measure in which each bean may be called a coffee bean.

Or perhaps about the music of Mozart,

I think it has a claim to be considered as the representative music of the human race, as its perfect result and limit…I call then this music preeminently and emphatically Human Music, and the mind of Mozart is par-excellence the musical mind! Mozart’s music is the music of mankind and in the abstract, his music and the territory in which it is heard is the Orbis Terrarum, or the World.

Ha! That is a wonderful statement. Nay even more…that is a manly statement!

I love the bravado. And what’s more I completely agree with it.

As a matter of fact- with apologies to Newman, I think I will lay claim to this statement as being perhaps the very clearest statement ever made about the worth and value of Mozart’s musical contributions.

Did you ever hear him praised more highly?

I think not!

In the future I plan on making a similar statement about Shakespeare so prepare yourselves.

But in the meantime let me return to the Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman and his statement about Western Civilization.

Can there be a clearer or more forceful statement about the value of Western Civilization that flies more in the face of the current attitude of cultural relativism?

No. Again, I think not! (with apologies to Descartes)

My old teacher Dr Jack Neumayr, a philosopher and professor at Thomas Aquinas College, commenting on Newman’s statement writes:

Some who regard all culture as empirical, as we have seen, will defend liberal education because it is good to know our origins; not that our culture is normative, but it is ours. Others will insist on the utility of knowing the roots of the good and evil in our society. Still others, thinking it well to know the works of man, urge us to scan the achievements of western thought. None, however, under the pressures of egalitarianism and skepticism, dares assert it is the measure of the human mind.

Indeed, few in our day see the value of liberal education so clearly. This education, which arises from western society, is none other than the education which is the measure of the human mind. It is the education that fulfills the nature of man; it is the education that disposes man for the life of grace.

Liberal education is a scandal to the modern world. Liberal education is a scandal because it presents itself in direct opposition to the prevalent educational philosophy of our day; it is a stumbling block to the aspirations and goals of modern education. Those goals include no more than what is thought necessary to equip the student with the particular knowledge that will further a specific career.

This is a rather small stumbling block- I would prefer to compare liberal education to something more like…

Liberal education …a boulder in the road of establishment educational philosophy!

Thus liberal education is a scandal to modern ears for at least two reasons. It is a scandal to those who are themselves ‘proponents of liberal education’ for the wrong reasons; reasons that amount to no more than a sort of cultural relativism and ultimately deny that liberal education is the education for the human mind. It is also a scandal to those who propose the purpose of education is to equip man for this world; for some career.

As Cardinal Newman writes elsewhere,

“This process of training, by which the intellect, instead of being formed or sacrificed to some particular or accidental purpose, some specific trade or profession, or study or science, is disciplined for its own sake, for the perception of its own proper object, and for its own highest culture, is called Liberal Education…”

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About marklangley

Academic Dean at The Lyceum (a school he founded in 2003, see theLyceum.org) Mark loves sacred music and Gregorian Chant and singing with his lovely wife, Stephanie, and their twelve children.
This entry was posted in classical education, education, Liberal Arts, Music, Newman and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The “Scandal” of Liberal Education

  1. Mariann says:

    This is excellent, and I’m so glad you’re back to your blog. My best to your lovely wife and eleven children. Do you believe liberal education makes the education establishment shake in their boots? They seem to be unqualified with educating all school age children. Would this be a master disaster? If you were suddenly asked to head a department of education (school district, or Diocesan Catholic schools, state of Ohio, or even in Washington D.C.), how would you begin to change from utility schools to what is superior, a liberal education in every pot?

    • marklangley says:

      Thanks Mariann! Yes some of my students shamed me back into writing at least one more post. If I were education king for a year I would immediately institute a frontal assault in every elementary, middle school and high school by mandating introductory Latin in every grade level. I would make it a condition of grade promotion that every student be able to recite the first line of Virgil’s Aeneid in dactylic hexameter!
      I would make certain that every teacher knew their “hic haec hoc” and would institute random spot tests in the halls! I would also, after some careful thought, institute a mandatory 100 word Latin vocabulary list to be mastered in the first year by every student. These simple changes in the first year would buy me some time to appoint a commission to come up with a complete grade K-12 classical literature curriculum consisting of six books per year in addition to a list of poetry to be memorized and recited. And then if I was not run out of office by then- I would start working on the math and science curricula….and then I would….. 🙂

      • The Langley Fan Club says:

        Bravo! Long live the King! Vivo Cristo Rey (en espanol, si?) …of course our Heavenly King first and then our education King. As for your blog, thanks to those students, and we who are enjoying the Lion & Ox are hopeful your posts continue (even if they arrive but once per month or quarter). By the way, I find my altered name quite fitting.

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