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Centre for Academic DevelopmentKing's CollegeAberdeen AB24 3FX
For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armorwas never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left themat the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and theradio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure themfrom the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know whatthe words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edgeor fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions insteadof being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalizedin 1940 when men were sent to fight armored tanks with rifles, are notscandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massedpropaganda with a smattering of "subjects"; and when whole classesand whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spell binder, wehave the impudence to be astonished. We dole out lip-service to the importanceof education--lip- service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money;we postpone the school-leaving age, and plan to build bigger and betterschools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours;and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, becausewe have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only makea botched and piecemeal job of it.
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What use is it to pile task on task and prolong the days of labor, ifat the close the chief object is left unattained? It is not the fault ofthe teachers--they work only too hard already. The combined folly of acivilization that has forgotten its own roots is forcing them to shoreup the tottering weight of an educational structure that is built uponsand. They are doing for their pupils the work which the pupils themselvesought to do. For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teachmen how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do thisis effort spent in vain.
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Before concluding these necessarily very sketchy suggestions, I oughtto say why I think it necessary, in these days, to go back to a disciplinewhich we had discarded. The truth is that for the last three hundred yearsor so we have been living upon our educational capital. The post-Renaissanceworld, bewildered and excited by the profusion of new "subjects"offered to it, broke away from the old discipline (which had, indeed, becomesadly dull and stereotyped in its practical application) and imagined thathenceforward it could, as it were, disport itself happily in its new andextended Quadrivium without passing through the Trivium. But the Scholastictradition, though broken and maimed, still lingered in the public schoolsand universities: Milton, however much he protested against it, was formedby it--the debate of the Fallen Angels and the disputation of Abdiel withSatan have the tool-marks of the Schools upon them, and might, incidentally,profitably figure as set passages for our Dialectical studies. Right downto the nineteenth century, our public affairs were mostly managed, andour books and journals were for the most part written, by people broughtup in homes, and trained in places, where that tradition was still alivein the memory and almost in the blood. Just so, many people today who areatheist or agnostic in religion, are governed in their conduct by a codeof Christian ethics which is so rooted that it never occurs to them toquestion it.