4 minutes reading time (797 words)

C.S. Lewis - Our English Syllabus

The title of this lecture might lead readers to think that Clive Staples intended to comment on grammar and literature, but what we find in these opening paragraphs is a distinction between education and vocational training. The full text of the essay may be found here.

 

Schoolmasters in our time are fighting hard in defence of education against vocational training; universities, on the other hand, are fighting against education on behalf of learning.
Let me explain.

The purpose of education has been described by Milton as that of fitting a man ‘to perform justly, skilfully, and magnanimously all the offices both private and public, of peace and war.’ Provided we do not overstress ‘skilfully,’ Aristotle would substantially agree with this, but would add the conception that it should also be a preparation for leisure, which according to him is the end of all human activity. ‘We wage war in order to have peace; we work in order to have leisure.’ Neither of them would dispute that the purpose of education is to produce the good man and the good citizen, though it must be remembered that we are not here using the word ‘good’ in any narrowly ethical sense.

The ‘good man’ here means the man of good taste and good feeling, the interesting and interested man, and almost the happy man. With such an end in view, education in most civilized communities has taken much the same path; it has taught civil behaviour by direct and indirect discipline, has awakened the logical faculty by mathematics or dialectic, and has endeavoured to produce right sentiments -- which are to the passions what right habits are to the body -- by steeping the pupil in the literature both sacred and profane on which the culture of the community is based.

Vocational training, on the other hand, hand,prepares the pupil not for leisure, but for work; it aims at making not a  good man, but a good banker, a good electrician, a good scavenger, or a good surgeon. You see at once that  education is essentially for free men and vocational training for slaves. That is  how they were distributed in the old unequal societies; the poor man’s son was apprenticed to  a trade, the rich man’s son went to Eton and Oxford and then made the grand tour.

When societies became, in effort if not in achievement, egalitarian, we are presented with a  difficulty. To give everyone education and to give no one vocational training is impossible, for electricians and surgeons we must have and they must be trained. Our ideal must be to find time for both education and training: our danger is that equality may mean training for all and education for none – that everyone will learn commercial French instead of Latin, book-keeping instead of geometry, and knowledge of the world we live in instead of great literature. It  is  against this danger that schoolmasters have to fight, for if education is beaten by training, civilization dies. That is a thing very likely to happen.

One of the most dangerous errors instilled into us by nineteenth-century progressive optimism is the idea that civilization is automatically bound to increase and spread. The lesson of history is the opposite; civilization is a rarity, attained with difficulty and easily lost. The normal state of humanity is barbarism, just as the normal surface of our planet is saltwater. Land looms large in our imagination of the planet and civilization in our history books, only because sea and savagery are, to us, less interesting. And if you press to know what I mean by civilization, I reply ‘Humanity’, by which I do not mean kindness so much as the realization of the human idea. Human life means to me the life of beings for whom the leisured activities of thought, art, literature, conversation are the end,’ and the preservation and propagation of life merely the means. That is why education seems to me so important: it actualizes that potentiality for leisure, if you like, for amateurishness, which is  man’s prerogative.

You have noticed, I  hope, that man is the only amateur animal; all the others are professionals. They have no leisure and do not desire it. When the cow has finished eating she chews the cud; when she has finished chewing,  she sleeps; when she has finished sleeping, she eats again. She is a machine for turning grass into calves and milk – in other words, for producing more cows. The lion cannot stop hunting, nor the beaver building dams, nor the bee making honey. When God made the beasts dumb He saved the world from infinite boredom, for if  they could speak they would all of them, all day, talk nothing but shop. That is my idea of education.

Latin Tutor Resources
Memoria Press: The Classical Teacher
 

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Friday, 19 October 2018

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