Liberal education works!
I have been thinking about this for several weeks as I renovate the second floor kid’s bathroom, and the thought provides me with no end of pleasure (and humor) when I think about the two senses in which it is true.
The first sense is that liberal education succeeds in its aim. That is, liberal education is the only kind of education that produces an educated person, a free person, a person who perhaps one day might be wise. As Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman says,
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…
By inference we may justly conclude that all other types of education amount to only a training in this or that specialty. They amount to an education where the human mind is “sacrificed to some particular or accidental purpose, some specific trade or profession.” ugh! Education based upon electives and specialties produce trained specialists, not educated people.
But the second sense of the phrase “liberal education works” is the one that can be spotted at the fast food joint. As the joke goes, of two people in a fast food restaurant how can you spot the one who has the liberal education?
Easy. He’s the one who says “Would you like fries with that?”
And so rather than sitting down to eat his lunch with the professional it is the liberally educated one that is serving the lunch. But this joke is beneath us. We will not even make a response.
Nonetheless, perhaps there are some of you that are prone towards the thought that liberal education tends to produce a person who is good for nothing except an arm-chair existence and heady abstractions. Perhaps some of you think in your heart of hearts that the liberal artist disdains getting his hands dirty with real work.
I say au contraire!
It is not at all unusual for the liberally educated man to work with his hands. As a matter of fact the liberally educated man will often be the very one for whom working with his hands becomes a necessity.
“Why?” you ask.
Well there are two reason for this.
The first is that the liberally educated man naturally seeks the things that are above. The liberally educated man studies natural philosophy in order to know something about the soul, and he studies the soul in order to know something about angels and he studies angels in order to know God!
In other words the liberally educated man’s thoughts tend upwards.
Now anyone who has worked with a ladder knows that he had better place that ladder on a very firm and stable surface. He had better be very sure that his ladder is planted firmly in an immovable spot. That’s important when he is standing aloft in the breezy heights, equipped with a hammer in one hand, a mouth full of nails, and a piece of gutter in the other, so that he doesn’t take fright when a hornet or a bat suddenly pops out from behind a shutter.
It is no different for the man whose thoughts climb towards the heavens. That man needs to have his feet and hands planted firmly in the solid and tactile world around us. The liberally educated man has a special need for what is purely practical; he has a need for tangible and sensible things. He has a need for hard things like Durock!
and best of all….old Hardiebacker!
And he needs to experience the wonders of thin-set!
When the liberally educated soul works with these kinds of things his soul is improved. When he makes the attempt to do the near impossible, when he tries to cut through Hardiebacker with nothing but a dull utility knife, when he attempts to make a level surface or a square corner out of reclaimed fragments of 2X4 pine and cement board and screws, all of these works provide his mind with solid ground to ascend the Heights! All of his work with plywood and cement will provide a solid base upon which he might later launch his thoughts towards the heavens!
That is the first reason why the liberally educated man needs to be rooted in the practical. It grounds his thoughts in reality.
The second reason is a little more simple.
Since his thoughts tend in an upwards direction, since he places more significance in things of form than he does in things of matter, since he prizes the things of the mind more than things of the body, he will tend, therefore, to have very little…
Not that this is a necessary result. Mortimer Adler, as did his predecessor Thales of old,
demonstrated very well how the liberally educated man is able to produce wealth if he so desires.
I have never done a longitudinal study on this precise question. I would wager that the liberally educated person on the whole does in fact make more money than the non-liberally educated person. But this will only be because he has specifically chosen to lay aside his philosophy for a time, as did Thales, and devote himself whole-heartedly towards making money.
Nonetheless, the liberally educated man loves self-sufficiency! He loves autonomy!! He loves to join form back with matter in a manner which he secretly thinks is imitative of the Divine Being. And thus it is that I say, again, liberal education works.