What Does it Mean to be Educated?
Schall states that education “is not a thing (Life of the Mind, 32).” He states that education comes from the word educere which “means to bring forth, or to complete something already begun by the very fact that one is a human being” (32). In a lecture given at Faulkner University a few years ago, John Mark Reynolds stated that there are long-road students and short-road students. Short-road students want to get out of college as soon as possible to get to work or start their career. Long-road students see learning as an end in itself. They want to pursue the life of the mind for its own sake. Mortimer Adler in an essay, “Labor, Leisure, and Liberal Education” argues that the “end of liberal education. . . lies in the use we make of our leisure” (2). In this essay he distinguishes between labor and leisure. He believes vocational training is “training for work or labor.” In contrast, liberal education “is education for leisure; it is general in character; it is for an intrinsic and not an extrinsic end; and ultimately it is the education of free men” (4). Leisure is what we do in our free time. Basically, we spend one third of our time in sleep, one third of our time at work, and one third of our time in leisure pursuits. Adler defines leisure activities as “such things as thinking or learning, reading or writing, conversation or correspondence, love and acts of friendship, political activity, domestic activity, artistic and esthetic activity” (5). Adler defines education as a “process which aims at the improvement or the betterment of men, in themselves and in relation to society” (2).
Adler thinks there are two ways men and women can be improved. First, they can be improved in their functions and talents. Second, they can be improved in the “capacities” and “functions” they share with other humans. These two ways lead to two different kinds of education. One type of education will emphasize in training men and women in respect of their similarities with other people. These two types of education can be distinguished as general and specialized education. Adler thinks we can identify specialized education with vocational education and general education with liberal education.
If we were only workers or slaves, it would make sense to receive only vocational education or vocational training. It is more accurate to call it training since that is what it is doing. It is training the worker in specific skills for a particular job. What is the problem with vocational training? Adler would probably say nothing is wrong with it, but that it is better done on the job, not in a school. He think schooling is liberal or general education.
A second problem with vocational education is that a person will change jobs and careers many times in a lifetime. Many people who graduate in a specific discipline work in another field when they graduate. It seems that a liberal education would serve them better than a vocational education. The reason is that a liberal education cultivate skills of writing, reading, thinking, speaking and other skills that would be applicable to many fields. The employee will easily pick up the skills needed for the job with training on the job.
The third problem is what we are to do with our leisure time. Vocational education does not provide the skills needed for pursuing leisurely activities. Since men and women are more than workers, it fails to prepare them for lifelong development. Many people waste their free time on frivolous things that do not improve themselves. I had a friend who had his days free because of a disability he could not work anymore. However, he could still get around and his mind was still sharp. He was helpful to others, but spent much of his time watching television. I wondered, what if he spent thirty minutes to one hour every day at the library reading on some topic that was interesting to him? What would his life have been like after doing this for thirty years? Maybe, he did not receive the type of education that would have equipped him for life long learning.
Reynolds did make an important point. The intellectual life is not for everyone. Some are short road students. They want to get out of college as quick as possible and start their career. This is fine. They still need a liberal education to be able to participate in leisurely activities: thinking or learning, reading or writing, conversation or correspondence, love and acts of friendship, political activity, domestic activity, artistic and esthetic activity. Liberal education prepares them to be free men and women. I think of my life as a long road education. My college education prepared to pursue the life of the mind.