3.118 education and universities (56)

Tue, 13 Jun 89 21:16:20 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 118. Tuesday, 13 Jun 1989.

Date: 13 June 1989
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: education and the universities

In the Times Literary Supplement for 26 May -- 1 June, John Passmore
reviews a book of essays by Michael Oakeshott, The Voice of Liberal
Learning (Yale U.P.), and in so doing clarifies the threat that
our universities now face. He considers in particular British and
Australian institutions, but what he says, and what Oakeshott says
through him, is nonetheless relevant to those in North America and
perhaps elsewhere.

In the eyes of government, Passmore declares, "the situation is
perfectly plain. Schools, universities, are enterprises designed to turn
out a particular kind of product. They should be thought of, in other
words, as being of the same order as a driving school. We judge such a
school in terms of its capacity to teach us a desirable skill at a level
adequate to gain us a licence, at the lowest possible cost. On the now
fashionable view, whenever schools or universities seek subsidies their
requests should be judged in similar terms, except that the benefits can
be of a broader kind. As is particularly insisted upon in England, there
is such a thing as being a `good citizen'. It consists in being law
abiding, amenable, no kind of troublemaker, never asking inopportune
questions, accepting such of the `traditional values' as are not
inconsistent with the maximization of wealth. Governments will find it
profitable to subsidize teaching institutions which turn out such

In contrast, Oakeshott talks about "schooling", "a serious and orderly
initiation into an intellectual, imaginative, and moral inheritance."
Thus, Passmore notes, "a driving school, a riding school, a business
school, far from being paradigm cases, do not count as such. They are
places for training, for what Oakeshott calls `socialization', not for
education." He argues that over the last 50 years educational
institutions, Oakeshott's "schools", have allowed themselves to be
converted into training institutions. Government subsidization has been
accepted by grateful academics without careful inspection of the terms
in which it has been offered. "Most academics so welcomed having more
money to appoint more staff that they did not realize that they had
entered into a Faustian contract. They saw the government as an
ever-loving Marguerite rather than as Mephistopheles."

Interesting, provocative reading. Comments?

Willard McCarty