The Reform of Public Schools
Mortimer J. Adler
[Reprinted from The Center Magazine of the
Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, September-October
There are five related and widely prevalent errors in American
education that The Paideia Proposal attempts to correct. The
first error is to think that only some children are educable, even
though all have a right to aspire to become truly educated human
The second error is to suppose that the process of education is
completed in our educational institutions during the years of basic
schooling or even during the years of advanced schooling after that.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Education never is completed
in the school. Youth and immaturity are insuperable obstacles to
The third error is to suppose that teachers are the sole, primary, or
principal causes of the learning that occurs in students. That is not
the case. The primary cause of all learning - unless it be rote
memory, which is not learning at all - is the activity of the
student's mind. The best that the best teacher can do is to assist
The fourth error is probably at the heart of the matter, and the
correction of this error is at the heart of The Paideia Proposal:
the error is to suppose that there is only one kind of teaching and
one kind of learning, the kind that consists in the teacher lecturing,
or telling, and the students learning what they hear said or what they
find in textbooks. That's the least important kind of learning and
teaching. There are two much more important kinds of learning and
teaching, and all three must be in basic schooling, from kindergarten
through the twelfth grade.
Finally, there is the error of supposing that schooling - basic or
advanced - is primarily a preparation for earning a living, and that
it will not hold the attention of students unless that is manifestly
so. Obviously one of the objectives of schooling is to prepare the
young to earn a living, but that is the least important objective. One
of the great troubles with our schools is that both teachers and
parents make the mistake of thinking that job preparation is the
My book, The Paideia Proposal, is dedicated to Horace Mann,
John Dewey, and Robert Hutchins. To Horace Mann because in the middle
of the last century he struggled valiantly to see that on the eastern
seaboard the children had at least six years of free compulsory
schooling. It turned out that six years became the rule well into this
century. It is only in the last forty or fifty years that compulsory
schooling has been extended to twelve years, but that in part is a
debt we owe to Horace Mann.
To John Dewey because, in 1916, in his book Democracy and
Education, Dewey put those two words together for the first time
in history. By doing so, he showed that in our kind of society, all
the children who go to school are destined to have the same kind of
future; therefore, the objectives of schooling should be the same for
all. They should all have exactly the same quality of schooling.
And to Robert Hutchins for a .single sentence that sums it all up: "The
best education for the best is the best education for all." An
extraordinary passage that Bob was fond of quoting came from John Amos
Comenius in the year 1657:
"The education that I propose includes all that is
proper for a man, and it is one in which all men who are born into
this world should share. Our first wish is that all men be educated
fully to full humanity. Not any one individual, not a few, or even
many, but all men, together and singly, young and old, rich and
poor, of high and lowly birth, men and women; in a word, all whose
fate it is to be born human beings, so that at last the whole of the
human race become educated, men of all ages, all conditions, both
sexes, and all nations."
In the title of my book, paideia is the Greek word for
general human learning; the Latin of paideia is humanitas.
I mention that because one of the terrible errors in the world today,
and particularly in America, is a misunderstanding of the meaning of
humanities. People think that it denotes what is left over when you
finish with the sciences. Humanities, humanitas, is strictly
the equivalent of paideia, which means general, unspecialized,
untechnical human learning.
The subtitle of the book describes it as "an educational
manifesto." We used the word "manifesto" to echo the
Communist Manifesto, because we are intending a revolution,
and a revolution is nothing but a reversal in direction in any social
institution. The quality of schooling has been declining for the last
sixty years. We must start climbing back. The ideal is a goal to be
aimed at and achieved by a series of cumulative steps in the right
direction. "It will not be reached quickly. It may take
twenty-five, thirty, even fifty years to produce the change we have in
Now it is much easier, of course, to state principles and policies
than to implement them. Therefore, the Paideia group has written a
second book, Paideia Problems and Possibilities. It will be
published in the fall of 1983. In the course of the last year, we have
met with members of sixty or seventy educational organizations across
the country. We have picked up more than fifty questions and problems
which we state carefully and answer.
We are planning a third book, The Paideia Program, scheduled
for publication in 1984. It will be a group of essays written by the
members of the Paideia group. The first two have already been written:
one on mathematics and the mechanical arts; the other on language and
the language arts. Everything in the Paideia program, diagrammed on
page 23 of The Paideia Proposal, will be commented on in
detail in our third book.
All these will be short books like our 84-page first book. We decided
that if the Communist Manifesto had been written in three
hundred pages, there never would have been a revolution. Anyone who
needs more than an hour to read it can't read. There is no jargon in
it, no educationese, no pedagese. If I could have raised the money to
do it, I would have liked to have dropped The Paideia Proposal
from airplanes on the roofs of every house in the United States.
Several things our proposal is not It is not a return to basics. Of
course, we are concerned with skills, including the skills of reading,
writing, and arithmetic. But we are concerned with much more than
Our program is not a return to the classics, as that word is so often
taken to mean, that is, simply going back to Greek and Roman
antiquity. We are concerned with classics where the classics mean
anything of enduring value.
Our program is also not just an appeal for an improvement in the
quality of education for some students. It is an appeal for the
improvement in quality for all, without any exception whatsoever. And,
since it is for all, it is not elitist. People who call it elitist
because it is dedicated to a high quality of education misuse the word
The first and most important distinguishing characteristic of The
Paideia Proposal is that it takes democracy seriously. It takes
seriously the commitment of the democratic society to the objective of
a high quality of basic schooling for all children.
Most Americans do not know that democracy is not fifty years old.
Democracy, properly defined in the modern sense as constitutional
government, with true universal suffrage, and the securing of all
natural or human rights, was not in existence at the beginning of this
century. At that time women were still disfranchised, human rights
were not secured, and economic rights were not even dreamed of.
It is therefore not surprising that we do not have a democratic
system of education. We have instead an antidemocratic, or
undemocratic, system of education, a holdover from the nineteenth
century and the first years of this century. We have a two-track
educational system. We separate the children into the sheep and the
goats, and we do not give them the same quality of schooling. It is
about time - now that democracy is just beginning to come into
existence - that we try to create, over the next hundred years, a
system of schooling that fits a democratic society.
Our proposal is also concerned not just with secondary schooling, but
with all twelve years of compulsory schooling as an integrated unit.
And in terms of all the developmental psychology we know, the best way
to divide those twelve years is in two parts of six years each.
Another characteristic of our proposal is that, given the same
objectives for all students, we must use the same means, which is a
required curriculum, for all. The required curriculum calls for the
elimination of all electives in the upper six years of schooling, with
the exception of a choice of a second language to be mastered, and the
elimination of all specialized job training throughout. The kind of
vocational training that now goes on in schools is worse than useless;
it is undemocratic in the extreme. As John Dewey observed in 1916 -
and the situation is ten times worse today - vocational training is
the training of slaves, not free men.
Our proposal does not prescribe the particulars of a curriculum for
the whole country. It says there should be a required curriculum
everywhere, but we have not defined that curriculum. It would be
presumptuous to do that in a country as pluralistic as ours, with more
than fifteen thousand separate autonomous school boards and/or school
districts, each with the authority to determine what is to be studied
in its own area. If we had a Ministry of Education in the United
States as they have in France, you could do that. What we did instead
is present a curricula framework, within which any sound curriculum
must be constructed in different ways, in different school districts,
to meet different populations under different circumstances.
Finally, our proposal regards basic schooling as preparation for
continued learning, either in higher institutions or in adult life. To
become an educated person is an accomplishment of one's mature years,
after all schooling, basic or advanced, has been completed.
In sum, The Paideia Proposal calls for:
- The same quality, hot just the same quantity, of schooling for
all the children, so that all will have an equal educational
- The schooling must be general, not specialized; liberal, not
vocational; humanistic, not technical; thus fulfilling the meaning
of the words paideia and humanitas - the general
learning that should be in the possession of every human being.
- The objectives of basic schooling should be the same for all,
because all have the same three elements in their future, as John
Dewey pointed out: the demands of work; the duties of citizenship;
and the obligation of each individual to make as much of himself
or herself as possible.
- These three common objectives can be achieved only by a
completely required course of study, whose only elective is a
second language. Incidentally, we are the only country in the
world that does not require a second language in its basic
- The curriculum of course of study must include three kinds of
learning: acquisition of organized knowledge; development of the
intellectual skills of learning; and an enlarged understanding of
ideas and values. These three kinds of learning and the
corresponding three kinds of teaching must be integrally related
to one another.
- Individual differences, especially inequalities in natural
endowment and in nurtural environments from which the children
come, call for compensatory efforts in the form of preschool
tutoring for those who need it, and remedial or supplementary
instruction for those who need that.
- Every school must have a principal who is truly the principal
teacher in that school, its educational leader, not merely its
administrative or clerical head. We tend to forget that the word "principal"
is an adjective. An adjective needs a noun. And the noun that goes
with principal is teacher. It's the only thing that could possibly
go with it. It's our American term for the British term
headmaster. In Britain the teachers are masters, and the
headmaster is the head teacher. A school without a principal is no
school at all. I know that in every school there are clerical and
administrative chores to be done; but let them be done by clerks
working for the principal. The principal should be the educational
leader of the school. Unless that is the case, I do not think you
can have a real learning community.
Two important comments on the foregoing are in order. The first
concerns the often misused words "liberal" and "humanistic."
Liberal has had two uses traditionally. As an adjective for education,
it meant nonvocational, that is, learning for the sake of learning
itself. Vocational meant learning for the sake of earning. But that
does not address the fact that carpentry, for example, may be a
component of liberal schooling and liberal learning, if it is
carpentry for the sake of acquiring the skill of thinking with one's
hands and tools. If it is carpentry to earn a living, it is not
liberal. Chemistry is liberal only if it is chemistry for the sake of
learning that particular branch of the physical sciences. If it is
chemistry to become a chemical engineer, it is not liberal.
The second meaning of the word liberal is as an adjective modifying
arts. Liberal arts are not fine arts. The fine arts are totally
useless; that is their glory. The liberal arts are useful. It is
important that we not include under the liberal arts all the things
they are not. When we refer to "liberal arts high schools"
or "liberal arts colleges," we do not mean liberal arts as
such. Any course, and any combination of elective courses of study,
can be part of a liberal arts college curriculum. But the liberal arts
themselves are the arts of the trivium and the quadrivium, which, in
modern form, include reading, writing, speaking, listening, and all
the mathematical arts and scientific skills. Those are the liberal
arts. They are skills. Arts are skills. The Greek word techne
is the word that names them all. Nevertheless, in America today there
is a gross misuse of these terms. We speak of a "liberal arts
curriculum" in which no liberal arts are taught at all, and in
which most of the elective components in that curriculum are either
not arts or skills, or if they are arts, they are literary and other
fine arts, not liberal arts.
The same kind of misuse applies to the word "humanities."
Humanistic learning is simply general, not specialized, learning. In
the Greek lexicon, the distinction is between paideia, or
general learning, and episteme, which is the knowledge of the
scientist, the expert. In Latin, the distinction is between humanitas
and scientia. Paideia is the root word in
encyclopaedia; the meaning of encyclopaedia is the great circle of
general learning. Paideia, or humanitas, in this
traditional sense, includes mathematics, all the sciences - natural
and social - just as much as it includes history, philosophy, and the
fine arts. Anything that belongs to general human learning is
Now, when Robert Hutchins came to the University of Chicago, he did
something which perpetuated this mistake. He's been forgiven for it,
because it was in the air. He divided the university into four
divisions. Three of these were the physical sciences, biological
sciences, social sciences. What was left over he called the
humanities. And it really was what was left over. But what was left
over is no different from the other three subjects. The humanities at
the University of Chicago, under Mr. Hutchins, included philology,
history, philosophy. But these subjects were just as specialized and
narrow in their scholarship as were the sciences in their specialized
research. The humanities at Chicago was no more humanitas, in
the sense of general learning, than physics and mathematics were.
Humanities, as general learning, must include all the subject matters,
not just some.
The curricula framework as diagrammed (see figure) is clear. Each of
the three columns designates a kind of learning that must continue, in
ascending difficulty, for the full thirteen years, that is, from
kindergarten through grade twelve. The first column is the acquisition
of organized knowledge in the basic fields of subject matter, which
are language, literature and the fine arts, mathematics and the
natural sciences, history, geography, and the study of social
institutions. The kind of teaching, that assists, but only assists,
this kind of learning is didactic teaching. It is teaching by telling,
teaching by lecturing, teaching by textbook assignments and by
examinations on those textbook assignments, teaching by class
exercises and blackboard work. Unfortunately this least important kind
of teaching is the only kind that most teachers do. It is the only
kind that schools of education pay any attention to. They do not do
this very well, but they do pay attention to it. They pay little or no
attention to the other two kinds of teaching and learning.
Intellectual Skills -- Skills of Learning
by means of
Understanding of Ideas and Values
by means of
Instruction, Lectures and Responses, Textbooks, and Other Aids
in three areas of subject matter
Exercises, and Supervised Practice
in the operations of
Socratic Questioning and Active Participation
|Areas, Operations, and Activities
Literature, and The Fine Arts
Mathematics and Natural Science
History, Geography and Social Studies
Calculating, Problem Solving, Observing, Measuring, Estimating
Exercising Critical Judgment
Books (not textbooks) and Other Works of Art and Involvement in
Artistic, Activities, e.g., Music, Drama, Visual Arts
The second kind of learning and teaching (column 2) is the
development of the intellectual skills. Now a skill, a techne,
or an art - the three words mean the same thing - is a habit. You do
not have an art except by having it through habit formation. This is
true of all the bodily skills. Forget about the intellectual skills
for the moment. Think of the skills that are taught in a gymnasium or
on the playing field. What kind of teaching helps the formation of the
habits which are these skills? It is coaching. You would not think of
someone trying to teach another how to play basketball or how to swim
by lecturing that person. You need a coach, a fellow who says, don't
do it this way, do it that way; stop putting your right foot forward
when you should put your left foot forward; keep your eye on the ball;
throw your shoulder back. Whatever it is you are doing, you must do it
over and over and over again under a coach's eye until you form the
correct habit. Coaching is the only way that skills - intellectual or
physical - can be formed. And it only can be done with a coach with
four or five trainees, not thirty or forty, at one time. You could not
do this coaching in a million years with thirty students.
Now, since schools of education do not prepare our teachers to coach,
and since they have classrooms and curricular arrangements in which
coaching cannot be done, our children do not learn how to read, write,
speak, listen, or how to do the mathematical or scientific operations
well. They never will be able to do these things if they are not
coached. These skills can be developed in no other way. We have to get
coaching back into the skills in the schools. Coaching is ten times
more important than the acquisition of organized knowledge (column 1)
which most people forget anyway. I regard myself as an educated human
being, and I have forgotten almost everything I learned in school as
described in column 1 of the diagram. But I have not forgotten the
skills I formed. They have remained with me all my life, and I have
improved them. The first kind of learning is evanescent; the other two
kinds are permanent.
The third column is even more important than the second. The first
column is knowing that; the second is knowing how; the
third is knowing why. The enlargement of the understanding of
basic ideas and values cannot be done by didactic teaching, and it
cannot be done by coaching. It must be done by discussion, by the
Socratic method of asking questions in seminars that run for two
hours, in which the things discussed are books, not textbooks. No one
can discuss a textbook. You have to have books that are readable and
discussable, that deal with ideas and values. And you have to have
other works of art that enhance those values. These are almost absent
from the schools today.
The great joke is that the only place in the school system where this
kind of teaching and learning goes on today is kindergarten. The
kindergarten teacher does sit on the floor with her students. They sit
in a circle, and she tells them a story or a fable. They ask
questions, and they enjoy it. That kind of teaching persists a short
while in the first grade. But by the time the children get to the
second grade, it stops. So what should persist through the whole
twelve years is almost entirely absent in our schools.
There is an organic or biological analogue of this. For our Me, for
our body's health and vitality, we need three nutriments: fats,
carbohydrates, and proteins; and we need them in a certain balance or
proportion. One can imagine what our body would be like if we had a
diet solely of fats. Well, our schooling is that kind of diet. It
consists almost solely of column 1 teaching, and unassimilated at
that. It is teaching and learning that is unalloyed by the "carbohydrates"
and "proteins" found in the second and third columns.
The three columns are diagrammed in two dimensions as if they were
separate; but all the work we have done indicates that in a properly
constructed curriculum, these three kinds of learning and teaching are
organically related to each other. Our teachers are totally untrained
for the third kind of teaching. They may have a bit of training for
the column 2 kind of teaching, coaching. They have none of the third
kind, which enlarges understanding. It is only the rare gifted teacher
who does it at all, and then not because of anything that he or she
learned in a school or department of education.
In addition to the threefold course of study which runs through
twelve years, there are three auxiliaries: twelve years of physical
education; six years of manual training, including cooking, sewing,
typing, machine repair - all the manual skills - not for any
vocational purpose, but because learning how to do things with one's
hands is just as much a matter of mental agility as learning how to do
things with words; and, in the last two years, a general - I emphasize
the word general - introduction to the world of work.
A comment on this last point is in order. Vocational training, as it
is now conducted, is worse than useless, but it will also be
terrifyingly wrong, because ten years from now, computers and robots
will be doing most of the unskilled and semiskilled work. Computers
will direct robots and will program other computers.
The only kind of preparation for work that makes any sense is
schooling in the liberal arts, the intellectual skills, the skills of
judgment, the skills that help a child to learn how to adapt to
learning whatever he or she needs to learn in life. That is the only
proper preparation for the world of work. It is not preparation for a
particular job; that kind of training goes back to the guild system
when the children of glassblowers became glassblowers, the children of
metalworkers became metalworkers, and so on. It is not only
undemocratic to narrow a child's future to any particular slot, it is
also foolish, since most of those slots will disappear anyway.
We haven't begun to think of what is involved in preparation for work
over the next ten, fifteen, or twenty years. Our country, as everyone
is beginning to realize, needs radical reorganization of our
industrial life. We can no longer compete in the world economy with a
nineteenth-century model of industry. Those jobs are gone forever.
That is the Paideia Proposal for the kindergarten and then the next
twelve years of schooling. Obviously some children will go on to
advanced schooling, some to college, some to universities. But all
children must be prepared to continue learning throughout their adult
life, whether they go on to college or university or not.
There are implications in the proposal for our colleges and
universities, which are in a bad state on both the undergraduate and
graduate levels. The members of the Paideia group, many of whom are
college presidents or deans, have given up on the colleges, as did
Robert Hutchins fifty years ago. It took Mr. Hutchins from 1930 to
1943 to create what I would say is a general college at the University
of Chicago, a college devoted entirely to general liberal learning. In
1943, we had a completely required college curriculum at the
University of Chicago. That was so radical that it almost brought on a
faculty revolt. Indeed, it was so radical that within twelve months of
Mr. Hutchins' leaving the university to join the Ford Foundation,
members of the graduate school undid the whole thing. Our colleges and
universities are under the control of the graduate schools which are
specialists' schools. They are not interested in general education at
all. They are interested in research in their specialties.
To create a good college, Robert Hutchins made the college faculty an
autonomous ruling body of the University of Chicago. This faculty was
in no way responsible to the graduate school. There were appointments
to the college faculty, promotions within the college faculty,
salaries determined by the college faculty, curriculum developed by
the college faculty, all this independent of the graduate school. In
short, the college became autonomous, because that was the only way
you could make a good college of the University of Chicago. But, as I
say, within twelve months of Robert Hutchins' leaving, that program
and setup were dismantled, and the college of the University of
Chicago became like any other college anyplace else. The only college
in the country that Hutchins and I had anything to do with that still
persists as a college in which general liberal humanistic learning is
required for four years is St. John's College at Annapolis, Maryland,
and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
There are no departments at St. John's College. There are no
professors. Every member of the faculty must teach the whole
curriculum. That is the only way you can make it work. That is the
St. John's College has been in existence since 1937. It has never
enrolled much more than 380 or 390 students. Why? Why has general
education at Chicago been thrust aside; why has it been thrust aside
at Harvard? Why was Hutchins' general education at Chicago undone? The
answer to that is also one of the reasons for the Paideia Proposal.
Today, college comes too late in a young person's life. The years of
the young in college are eighteen to twenty-two. That is too close to
the time when one leaves home, gets married, earns a living. Asking
the young or their parents, under those circumstances, to subscribe to
four years of general, unspecialized, unvocational education, an
education that does not directly prepare for any profession, will, of
course, be resisted and rejected. And it probably should be that way.
So we decided that if we are going to have general human learning in
this country, it has to be accomplished in the first twelve years of
That program is right for another reason; namely, that that is the
only schooling that is common to all children. Learning should be
common to all, and it should occur in schooling that is common to all
- grades kindergarten through twelve - not in college, which is for
less than half the population.
Now, agreed that colleges will continue to be specialized and
departmentalized, that their catalogues will continue to be crammed
with elective courses - Harvard alone has four thousand courses in its
catalogue! - let all that stand. The Paideia group says, if we have
the paideia pre-college schools underneath, let's at least
have some continuation of general, liberal, humanistic learning at the
college level. The proposal - it is only a proposal- that I have made,
at the invitation of a number of college presidents, to their
faculties, is, keep your catalogue and all your elective majors, but
have just one minor for all four years, something which all students
will be required to take. That minor, in the form of a seminar, will
consist of the reading and discussion of books and the discussion of
works of art. When I propose that to college faculties, they smile
indulgently, until I make the next statement, which is that this will
work only if all members of the faculty lead these seminars. At that
point they throw their hands up. "You can't expect us to do that.
What books would you have?" I name a book. "Oh, that isn't
in my field." That is the statement that ruins everything: "That
book isn't in my field." Sure, the students can read it. because
they do not have any fields. But the faculty cannot, because they've
got fields. You cannot get a college faculty in this country to
undertake such seminars with students.
Another demon we must exorcise is the Ph.D. degree. The Ph.D. degree
has no ancient lineage. There were no Ph.D.'s in the medieval
universities. They had only four degrees. One was the teaching degree,
the master of arts. The master was strictly a teacher, and he taught
the same arts that the students were to learn, the liberal arts. The
other three degrees were professional in nature: doctor of law, doctor
of medicine, and doctor of theology.
Eventually there grew up in the nineteenth-century German
universities research in the fields of science, the humanities,
philology, and history. The German universities wanted to recognize
these new specializations just as law, medicine, and theology had been
recognized. Again, humanities was the name for whatever was left over
after you accounted for the natural and social sciences, and in
Germany the humanities teachers were called the faculty of philosophy.
So the degree was called "doctor of philosophy," but it had
nothing at all to do with philosophy.
Today there isn't an actual doctor of philosophy in our
country. There may be a few in the departments of philosophy, but for
the most part they, too, are not philosophers. We don't refer to
someone as a "doctor of philosophy"; we say "doctor of
philosophy in education," or "doctor of philosophy in
physics," or "doctor of philosophy in engineering," or
accounting. Today you can be a doctor of philosophy in anything.
The meaning of the Ph.D. degree in the German universities was, in
the beginning, acceptable, because it meant a degree that signified
the accomplishment of specialized research in a given field like
philology or history or mathematics. It did not mean a degree that
prepared anyone to teach. It had nothing to do with teaching. The
great teachers in Germany were the teachers in the humanistic
gymnasium, and those were not Ph.D.'s. They shouldn't have been
Ph.D.'s. At Oxford and Cambridge universities, well into this century,
the highest degree, other than the professional degrees, was the
.master's, as it should be. Finally Oxford and Cambridge yielded. And,
of course, the American universities slavishly imitated the Germans,
but with a difference. The American universities came to regard the
Ph.D. degree as a certificate for a teacher. That is why our college
faculties are staffed today with Ph.D.'s. One of the great letters in
all of American literature is William James' letter to the president
of Bryn Mawr College who had refused to hire James' best student to
teach philosophy because the student did not have a Ph.D. James'
letter became the classic little essay entitled "The Ph.D.
We ought to restructure the whole thing. We ought to have a "Sc.D."
which would stand for doctor of science, and doctor of scholarship,
and use that in place of the Ph.D., for all graduate degrees other
than law, medicine, and theology, which are research degrees. The
Sc.D. would not signify a teacher at all. If we want to signify
someone who is prepared to teach, and since the master of arts degree
no longer means that, let us resuscitate the old degree (now an
honorary degree) of L.H.D., doctor of humane letters. That would be
for the teacher of general, liberal, humanistic studies.
Then let us require - for the sake of our culture, if nothing else -
that all Sc.D.'s and all L.H.D.'s should also be Ph.D.'s in the proper
meaning of Ph.D., that is, doctors of philosophy, meaning that they
must have some acquaintance with the fundamental ideas and values of
our civilization. Let them be philosophical experts and philosophical
teachers in the sense in which both John Stuart Mill in his famous
address as rector of St. Andrew's and Cardinal Newman in his Idea
of a University meant philosophy, not in its narrow sense as in
our philosophy departments today, but in its general sense.
What we are saying is that everyone should be a generalist first and
a specialist second.
Robert Hutchins never tired of saying that the university should be a
community of learning, a community of scholars. But how can we say a
university is a community when students and teachers have nothing in
common? You can go to every college in the country at graduation time
and ask this question of the seniors: What one book have all of you
read in the last four years and discussed with one another? To which
there would be no answer at all. No answer, not even in the Catholic
colleges. All may have read certain textbooks, but not one book. So it
is ridiculous to think of the university as an intellectual community
This is a serious matter that goes beyond the education of the young,
if it continues. The man who called the shots on that is Jose Ortega y
Gasset. I recommend to you, as the most important educational
document in the twentieth century, his Revolt of the Masses,
particularly chapter 12, "The Barbarism of Specialization."
That was written in 1930, What Ortega describes there is true to a
much more intense degree today.
The ideal of a truly educated human being, something to which every
child has a natural right to aspire, is in some degree attainable only
at the end of life, in the ripeness of maturity, certainly not much
before one reaches the age of fifty or sixty. There is such a thing as
terminal schooling. But education is for a lifetime. We can give
certificates, diplomas, and degrees to signify the completion of
schooling. The only thing that signifies the completion of education
is a death certificate.