Harvard Classics on Education

Last December I got the Harvard Classics set for my birthday because my husband is awesome. I committed to going through the “Fifteen Minutes a Day” Reading Guide. There’s a whole years worth of selections that, according to them, helps create a well rounded educated human being. The funny part is that it’s written for “boys and girls from twelve to eighteen years of age”. Well, I’m pretty far beyond that age but I never read this kind of stuff when I was a kid, so why not read it now!

Years ago I came across “A Thomas Jefferson Education” and I heard Oliver DeMille (the author) speak about it. It made so much sense to me. In my opinion, it all boils down to the idea that no one can educate anyone else. It’s something you need to go get for yourself. And for each person it’s an entirely different path and destination. It isn’t “educate yourself with the same books and experiences that Thomas Jefferson did”, it’s more like educate yourself the WAY he did, by reading what excites you, speaking and writing with mentors and peers, and experiencing the world around you.

So here I am years later still reading and just getting started in writing about what I’m reading. I haven’t found any mentors in my classics though. There just aren’t a lot of people in my immediate area that are willing to spend time educating themselves. I can continue to be an example to my sons though.

Back to the Harvard Classics! The reading list is old. I find what I’m supposed to read that day and start to read it, but if I’m not comprehending any of it, or I can’t see any link to my world, I just put it aside. There isn’t much on that list though. Some things I’m just really not interested in and I know the reading list is circular so I’ll see the author or subject again in the future, so I just skip it this time. A few times over the years of reading, I’ve come across something I hadn’t found relevant in the past but this time it was timely.

I’m also reading the “Lectures” book of the set. I really enjoy reading these. The one I read most recently was “Lectures on Education”. One of them I was fuming at because I felt it was so off. It was by Professor H.W. Holmes. It came off as pretty authoritarian and communistic, filled with the ideas of the “common good” and “political control”. What was really upsetting reading it was that much of the ideas he was putting forward are what our public education system is using and it isn’t working out anything like he had hoped, or is it?

“For the public interest goes far beyond the need of supplying to all a uniform minimum of schooling. Democracy means far more in education than the warding off of danger from illiteracy. It is a crude and at bottom a wholly mistaken view of public education which confines it to the “the three R’s” or to those admitted necessities and such other subjects as the common good may dictate for the common school. The public interest is not met by merely elementary education. It is met only when every prospective citizen may secure without undue sacrifice that extent and kind of education which will make him most efficient in his fundamental social relationships, including his vocation. The state needs knowledge, efficiency, insight, and idealism in industry, commerce, the arts, science, philosophy, religion, and family life as much as in citizenship more narrowly defined. The only logical result of the thoroughly social character of education is public support of every socially profitable kind of schooling, with commensurate public authority.”

There are loads of problems with this, the least of which is the idea that the United States is a “democracy”. Democratic Republic. We vote for representatives that operate under a predetermined constitution. Anyway, the system of making sure everyone has the same basic education to promote all these “socially profitable” things is the exact opposite of what made this country grow and become great in the first place. Individualism, self-educating, and self-reliance is what creates the kind of human being that can rule himself. The education this man is promoting is what creates citizens and a ruling class. Which is exactly what we have now.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the essay about “Huxley on Science and Culture” by Professor A.O. Norton. “So clear and simple is it, indeed, that one constantly forgets that the printed page is before one. One seems to be looking directly at the thoughts expressed rather than at the words themselves, just as one looks through a clear window at a landscape.”

Have you ever read a book like that? I have. Poetry can sometimes do that, but Jane Eyre was one that made me feel as if I were looking right into that world. I wanted to reach out and hug the characters, or yell at them to stop and see what they were doing to each other. Makes me want to read it again.


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