Thursday, May 10, 2012

Liberal Arts Education

Gregory Bassham's essay, "A Hogwarts Education: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" (in The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy) notes the importance of a Liberal Arts education. First, he points out what is good with a Hogwarts education. It provides "hands-on-learning." The students come to school to learn how to do magic. For example, the students are upset when Umbridge provides them "purely theoretical textbook assignments." The students' training in magic is similar to an apprenticeship. The professor shows them how to do it and then they do it under his supervision. Coaching and mentorship is an important part of their training. Another positive point of their education is that it builds "on the natural interests of the students." Research has shown that students perform better and are more motivated on things that interest them. A third thing that Hogwarts education does is connect what they are learning to everyday life.

Bassham points out three bad things that characterize a Hohwarts education:

  • The School is too dangerous
  • There are too few qualified teachers
  • Students don't get a well-rounded education. (215)

I will concentrate on the lack of a broad education. Bassham asserts that a Hogwarts education "offers a narrow and vocationally oriented education." Though it gives students the "tools of power," it does not give them the "wisdom to use them." Mortimer Adler noted three things that an education should provide: "to earn a living in an intelligent and responsible fashion, to function as intelligent and responsible citizens, and make both of these things serve the purpose of  leading intelligent and responsible lives---to enjoy as fully as possible all the human goods that make a human life as good as it can be."

When I first went to college, my goal was to get a degree so I could enter a particular field. Half-way through I discovered that learning is an end in itself. Learning is an intellectual good. Professional or career-oriented learning is not enough to live a good life.

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