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Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday Morning Words of Wisdom
Personal Judgement vs Traditional Opinion

Words of Wisdom Series Dr Russell Kirk

"Immensely expensive systems of state schooling have not succeeded in repairing the damage to private character and public life that was done when personal judgement began to supplant traditional opinion." ~Russell Kirk

Who is Dr Russell Kirk? You ask. He was the father of the resurgence of modern conservative thought. He was a man of letters who shaped conservative thought from a farm in northern Michigan. For more information, please visit the website run by his widow, The Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal.

Much of Kirk’s work on education defended wisdom and virtue against rapacious drives to transform education into a vehicle of social engineering with narrow utilitarian ends. In Decadence and Renewal in the Higher LearningKirk identified two fallacies that motivated these attacks and contributed to the fundamental problems crippling contemporary colleges and universities:
Fallacy I is the notion that the principal function of college and university—if not the only really justifiable function—is to promote utilitarian efficiency. The institutions of higher learning, according to this doctrine are to be so many intellectual factories, delivering to society tolerably-trained young persons who will help to turn the great wheel of circulation, producing goods and services. . . .
Fallacy II is the notion that everybody, or practically everybody, ought to attend college. This misconception grows up from what Henry and Brooks Adams called the “degradation of the democratic dogma”—the extension of political forms to the realm of spirit or intellect. . . . This fallacy is bound up with what Ernest van den Haag calls “America’s Pelagian heresy.” . . . The modern American, Professor van den Haag suggests, believes that all his countrymen will be redeemed soon, through formal schooling, without the operation of thought.
These fallacies of utility and open college enrollment enabled four general errors which he detailed in the same book: First, “purposelessness” in studies with inconsistent claims and promises; second, “intellectual disorder” in curriculum and in a bulging educational bureaucracy; third, “gigantism in scale”: overinflated enrollment that caused the bulbous growth of “Behemoth University” in which students became lost and faculty overburdened and demoralized; and fourth, “the enfeeblement of primary and secondary schooling,” which made the typical freshman “wretchedly unprepared for the abstractions with which college and university necessarily are concerned.” These four general errors, as well as their specific manifestations in the university and in primary and secondary education, were the objects of Kirk’s criticisms of contemporary education. In his articles, essays, and his “From the Academy” column he impugned hundreds of specific educational blights, including, among other things, the “monstrous” federal Department of Education, the National Education Association (NEA), textbooks as brainwashing agents, the formation of teachers, “sensitivity training,” the neglect of vocational training, and approaches to understanding communism.

Source: The University Bookman 

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