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Education's End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life Hardcover – September 25, 2007
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"In Education's End Kronman succeeds remarkably well, even movingly, in conveying the intellectual and spiritual joy that a serious student can find by participating in the 'great conversation.'"--Ben Wildavsky, Commentary--Ben Wildavsky"Commentary" (04/01/2008)
"In a brilliant, sustained argument that is as forthright, bold, and passionately felt as it is ideologically unclassifiable and original, Anthony Kronman leaps in a bound into the center of America's cultural disputes, not to say cultural wars. Although Kronman's specific area of concern is higher education, his argument will reach far beyond campus walls."--Jonathan Schell, author of The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People--Jonathan Schell
"Just when we need them most, the humanities have relinquished their role at the heart of liberal education--helping students reflect on what makes life worth living. In this bold and provocative book, Anthony Kronman explains why the humanities have lost their way. With eloquence and passion, he argues that departments of literature, classics, and philosophy can recover their authority and prestige only by reviving their traditional focus on fundamental questions about the meaning of life."--Michael J. Sandel, author of The Case against Perfection and Public Philosophy
--Michael J. Sandel
"Kronman argues his case passionately. His discussion of the transformation of American higher education over the last century and a half is most illuminating."--George Leef, NationalReview.com--George Leef"NationalReview.com" (02/05/2008)
"Kronman unfolds here a sustained argument marked by subtlety, force, nuance, and considerable appeal."--Francis Oakley, President Emeritus, Williams College
"Kronman's study is an important contribution to the discussion about what education is for, and where it is going."--David Clemens, Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies--David Clemens "Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies "
"No question that the humanities are in a bad way in education at the present, and this book offers not just an argument that they should be more highly prized, but a carefully reasoned position of what happened, why it did, and what needs and can be done about it."--Alvin Kernan, author of In Plato's Cave--Alvin Kernan
"An impassioned defense of the humanities." Robert Messenger, "Wall Street Journal"--Robert Messenger"Wall Street Journal" (10/04/2007)"
"In "Education's End" Kronman succeeds remarkably well, even movingly, in conveying the intellectual and spiritual joy that a serious student can find by participating in the 'great conversation.'" Ben Wildavsky, "Commentary"--Ben Wildavsky"Commentary" (04/01/2008)"
About the Author
Anthony T. Kronman is Sterling Professor of Law, Yale Law School. Since stepping down as Dean of the Law School in 2004, he has been teaching in the Directed Studies Program at Yale and devoting himself to the humanities.
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He approaches the issue historically, studying the antebellum approach in which colleges were predominantly religious in their orientation. Their task was to educate Christian gentlemen and they did it through the study of the classics, through the study of theology and through the instilling of personal discipline.
The doctrinal, character-centered approach was succeeded by what he terms (in the humanities) secular humanism: the study of great writers and great texts which did, indeed, confront such questions as the meaning of life. The approach was less one of indoctrination than the introduction to thousands of years of reflection on weighty issues, reflection which was not internally consistent or absolutist but rather pluralist and, in its totality, wise. This approach exists in very limited form now in such programs as Yale's Directed Studies program, which enrolls 120 students (who apply to pursue it).
Secular humanism was displaced by the politicization of the 60's, aided and abetted by the `research ideal' in which depth replaced breadth, incremental learning replaced grand syntheses and correction/replacement became the goal rather than absorption/internalization/preservation.
One way of thinking about this is to say that `the preservation of culture' (a longstanding ideal, e.g., of the National Endowment for the Humanities) is not taken very seriously by contemporary humanists, who see their cultural position as largely oppositional. The response to that, of course, is that we need both a culture and a counter culture, but in many cases the counter culture has become the `culture' and it brooks no culture that would seek to oppose it.
In short, Kronman argues, we have returned to the antebellum world of indoctrination, though the shibboleths now are those of political correctness, multiculturalism, constructivism and so on, rather than explicit ideals based on religious faith. Our students are now taught how and what to think and the instilling of something like `wisdom' has little place in our activities. This further isolates the humanities from the natural and social sciences, whose ideals and successes have clearly won the day and served to further isolate and marginalize the already self-isolating and self-marginalizing humanities.
This is a courageous book, coming as it does from Yale, from whence issued many of the problems which the author laments. I applaud that courage and find the general outline of his argument helpful and apt. I think he gives a tad too much attention to the research ideal and a tad too little to the politicization issue. The fact is that many individuals entering the humanities professoriate in the era and wake of Vietnam simply had much more interest in politics than they did in traditional humanistic study and turned the field in that direction with the help of the French Nietzscheans. For awhile we reaped the whirlwind; now we emerge from the mists to find approaches that are more historical than theoretical but are increasingly fragmented and still suspicious of old ways.
The research ideal bears some responsibility for the problem, but it should be remembered that that ideal could be applied to the great books/great texts approach, as it indeed was through the prewar (WWII) days of German-inspired philology. Great writers and great texts were studied and edited and highly-focused monographs examined aspects of this work in depth.
Regardless of quibbles that I might offer, this is a book I recommend highly, at the very least to stimulate thought and discussion and to reassure the broader reading public (and our colleagues in the natural and social sciences) that not all hope or good sense has necessarily been abandoned.
But that is my only real complaint, and this is something that one should get past when reading this book because it is important. The author's main thesis is that the colleges and universities have abandoned the task of equipping the students to answer life's big questions in any thoughtful way. The author traces the history of the modern day university back to a time when the idea of becoming an expert in a field and building on the work of your predecessors (the research ideal) was unknown. Rather, a university professor was able to teach all courses, and the purposes of those courses was to make you a well-rounded and educated human being by teaching within the framework of the meaning of life. The author refers to this as "secular humanism" and upholds it as the proper lens by which the university should be teaching. At some point, the research ideal because the dominating mark of the university, the glory of the humanities were destroyed by what the author calls "political correctness", science because the ultimate arbitrator of truth, and the idea that you could look to your university for morals or life's big questions fell by the wayside. This is unfortunate because, amongst other reasons, a young person looking to wrestle with life's big questions only has religion to turn to for answers. Because I am Catholic it may seem that this fact would please me, but this is certainly not the case. I very much encourage rational inquiry and study of the best minds history has to offer. I believe that such a study can lead one into the Catholic faith. I am all for full disclosure and for struggling with the big questions in a serious way, and the university is a good place for this. Although many professors take advantage of that by attempting to undermine the faith of their students, the author of the book seems to take the proper attitude of openness to what the religions of the world have to say while still holding their claims to the same level of scrutiny as other philosophical claims throughout history. There ought not be any special (better or worse) treatment for one worldview over another, so that there is a proper role for this kind of study in the academy.
While the author laments that the lose of a sense of meaning in the universities, he is quick to point out that there are schools (such as his university Yale) that has "great books" courses which deal with these kinds of questions. I am proud to say that my own college has such a course which I taught while reading this book, and the book made me appreciate my course and what my school was doing much more. The book offers an important message for today, and thus should be considered by those in the academy as well as those who are about to enter college or who have children ready to enter college.