James V. Schall states that education “is not a thing.” 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.” In some sense, education is to humanize us, help us to reach our potential as human beings. Many people think a college degree means that one is an educated human being. Mortimer Adler disagreed with this conclusion. He states,
“The worst mistake we can possibly make is to suppose that the bachelor of arts degree, honestly earned, signifies that its possessor is an educated man or woman. Nothing could be further from the truth… The reason simply that youth itself—immaturity of mind, character, and experience—is the insuperable obstacle to becoming educated. We cannot educate the young; the best we can do for them is to school them in such a way that they have a good chance to become educated in the course of their life.”
Labor, Leisure, and Liberal EducationMortimer 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.” 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.” Leisure is what people do in their free time. Basically, they spend one third of their time in sleep, one third of their time at work, and one third of their 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.” Adler defines education as a “process which aims at the improvement or the betterment of men, in themselves and in relation to society.” A liberal arts education equips “for a life of learning and for the leisure activities of a whole lifetime. Adult liberal education in an indispensable part of the life of leisure, which is a life of learning.”Liberal education will equip students with the tools to be better workers and to use their leisure wisely.
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 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. “Vocational training is learning for earning. … School is a place of learning for the sake of learning, not for the sake of earning. … Liberal education is learning for its own sake or for the sake of further education. It is learning for the sake of all those self-rewarding activities which include the political, aesthetic, and speculative.” Vocational education is to limited to prepare the student for a lifetime of learning and career mobility.
If humans 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. Schooling is liberal learning which prepares for all the future tasks or callings.
Adler believes there are “two limited objectives of liberal schooling.” “They are, first, to give the young a measure of competence in the liberal arts, which are nothing but the skills of learning itself—the skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening, observing, calculating, and measuring.” He does not mention thinking because that is included in all the specific skills of learning. In addition to “competence in the skills of learning,” a liberal arts education gives the student a preliminary and basic knowledge of universal knowledge. The student is not benefitted by falsely thinking they are educated when they have basically skimmed the surface of knowledge. It is better for them to be informed that they are only laying a foundation that they will build on for the rest of their lives.” It is a false view of liberal education that its purpose is “to turn out educated men and women, this education completed when they are awarded a degree or diploma.” Wisdom is the ultimate goal of a liberal arts education and this takes a lifetime. “Hence if wisdom is the ultimate goal of the whole process of learning, then the process must go on for a lifetime.”
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. A liberal education equips the student for “the whole of life; its understandings, skills, and value development bear on a wide range of occupations and equips one for a lifetime of career mobility.”This is in contrast to a vocational education that prepares only for a particular job since the emphasis is not on the development of skills that would be transferable to many vocations.
The third problem is what people do with their 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 this type of learning. A liberal arts education prepares for a wise use of freetime; including the time after retirement.
A typical question asked by parents and students is what can I do with a liberal arts education. Arthur Holmes believes this is the wrong question. A better question is what will the education do to us. Liberal arts education contributes to many vocations. Holmes states, “The human vocation is far larger than the scope of any job a person may hold because we are human persons created in God’s image, to honor and serve God and other people in all we do, not just in the way we earn a living.” One problem with vocational education is that it subordinates the person to the job and the person is larger than the job. An education “that helps make us more fully persons is especially important to Christians.” Holmes thinks that the question “what do the liberal arts contributes to the making of a person” depends on a “prior” question: “What is a person?” Homes defines person in three ways. “First, a person is a reflective, thinking being.” He uses reflection instead of reasoning to avoid the enlightenment idea of reason. Aristotle asserts, man by nature desires to know, they want to know why things are the way they are. They are inquisitive; they wonder and they imagine, they take things apart and put them back together. Being reflexive also means being analytical. People want to know what gives life meaning, what is true, and how to live one’s life wisely. It is important for the student to seeking understanding, ask questions, to think for themselves. These things are “part of what it means to be human.” To be reflective means to see the relationship of things, how things fit together. To develop intellectually requires the skills of reading and writing. Reading helps us to have “informed conversation.” Writing develops the skill of articulating what we want to communicate. Both of these skills will help us to think for ourselves.
Second, we are “valuing beings.” Holmes asserts, “We make value judgments and act to realize our values.” Holmes believes values are more than feelings because there is an objectivity to them. In addition, “they are not all relative.” They have a “basis” in our nature as human beings. Third, we are “responsible agents.” We are “accountable” to God on how we live our lives. We must be responsible stewards to all that God has given us. God gives us gifts, abilities, and opportunities. These things will help us discern God’s calling in our life.