The object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful.
Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.
As I've mentioned before, as gentlemen, it is important that we are respectful of those around us. In conversation, for example, what we say, how we say it, and how we listen all serve to demonstrate how we feel for those with whom we are engaged. But if a man does not understand what is being talked about. Or if he constantly must interrupt the conversation to ask questions, he will quickly find himself bored or being rude. Either way this is not a good thing.
In a perfect world, a gentleman would have an understanding for everything which is being discussed, but unfortunately, it is not possible for a man to know everything, despite how he may present himself. A man is limited by experience and study. And while it is strange to think of it this way, in this day and age, collegiate study has devolved to become quite limiting indeed.
It used to be that when a man went to school, he was given a solid liberal arts education. From the end of grammar school until he went for his master's degree, he was instructed in a myriad of fields: the classics, mathematics, philosophy, science, and so on. He was presented with a glimpse into every subject the world had to offer and this resulted in a well rounded and educated man. A man such as this was capable of conversing on most things and if he was not familiar with the subject at hand, he possessed the basic education necessary to understand more complex subjects with a minimum of effort.
In order to complete your education it was necessary to attend college. And in the 19th century, studying at university was an honor. This comes from the fact that not only was acceptance into a university an enormous challenge but there was a stronger respect for education than we exhibit today. And there was a pride in having been permitted to attend.
The knowledge one gained in university was the basis for a man's future. It was the foundation upon which everything from his career to his social abilities were built. College was the key to a life of enlightenment.
Universities back then were not driven by money, or football, or merchandising. A university was driven by status. A university rested its laurels on the distinction of its alumni and the quality of its professors. A university had one purpose and that was to be as challenging as possible in order to attract the best possible minds in both faculty and student, and turn out the most well educated graduates that they could. A university in the 19th century had only the goal of education in mind. And due to this, they were very careful about whom they admitted.
As evident in the image above from the U. Penn course catalogue and the Harvard entrance exam below, a man was expected to enter college with a solid background in the liberal arts. Requirements that, by today's standards, seem nearly impossible were commonplace and reasonable. A college freshman was expected to enter university ready to face the rigorous challenges he would be presented with. It was not the job of college to teach him the foundations. That was what a "college prep" was for. College was meant to take what you already knew, and expand upon it, and to teach you how to use it.
It would appear, that by the time they graduate high school, today's students are already at a pretty severe disadvantage to the men of the same age 100 years ago. This is to say nothing of the gap that further develops at the point of graduation.
In the 19th century, as different from today, it was only after graduating from the grueling four year process that you could begin to narrow your focus. Only after you had completed an education that covered everything from Cicero to steam engines, would you be permitted to say "OK, I was really good in biology and chemistry. I'd like to be a doctor." After 16 years of study, you could finally select a specialty.
But not today.
No, today's world is very different. No one has the patience to learn the classics anymore. And no one has the time to get a proper arts and sciences education. Today, students have become so impatient, that they would prefer to choose a career path at the age of 18, eschewing all liberal arts education in exchange for a focused instruction on the topic of their selection.
Truly, what purpose would a working knowledge of Greek serve to the modern person? Why would history of warfare be a topic that was necessary for a mechanical engineer to study?
When an 18 year old enters university with the intent of getting a degree in computer science, for example, many other subjects fall to the side. A student does not have to study physics if they don't want to. And they do not need to learn a foreign language, much less a dead one. Being well versed in the classics has become irrelevant and the arts are all but lost on the average student.
A well rounded education has been replaced by a streamlined and isolated path to a profession. Like a stallion with blinders, the modern student runs at full speed towards a job, ignoring all that flies past him as he runs. Only on occasion does he catch a fleeting glimpse of the surrounding scenery.
Where once the educational system served to broaden and enrich young minds and teach them how to think, we now have factories for producing cogs. No more does a college produce a man that can speak on a variety of subjects. No more can we expect a college graduate to know Horace or Virgil. College has become a machine to churn out identical pieces that can serve as replacements in the larger system that we all expect to run flawlessly.
People have become so adapted to a lifestyle of instant gratification, that they have literally rushed their way into being one-dimensional. In their haste to get to their careers, in their hurry to make money as quickly and easily as possible, they have forgotten about beauty. For you see, one cannot see the beauty of the world through the filter of ignorance. In order to enjoy beauty, we must understand at what we are looking or hearing. If we don't understand, we become bored, and if enough of us become bored, then the art form dies.
A gentleman must always be able to understand. A proper gentleman has taken the time to study and learn. But at some point after the baby boom, it all became about gainful employment. For the longest time, we were all inundated with the mantra "go to college and get a good job." But this is not the point of college. Gaining employment is the goal of a trade school. Attending a university should be about intellectualism and thinking. But once we all started seeing college as a way to make money, the result was universities streamlining academics and truly turning their programs into trade schools. We must come to terms with the fact that the purpose of an education is not employment.
To see what education is supposed to be, one need only look at the word itself. Deriving from the Latin ex-ducere which translates literally as "to lead from", we see that education is not meant to take someone towards an end goal, but to lead them from where they were. Education is a broadening. Expansion, growth, enrichment: these are the purposes of education.
This is not to say that it is wrong to focus on a subject. Master's programs are for just that. The world needs specialists. But somewhere along the lines, when money started to matter more than process, a university decided to undercut competing schools by focusing the undergraduate curriculum on a specific field of study. It was at that moment when education became adducation. No longer were students being led from, as was the traditional method. With the development of the undergraduate specialty, students began to be led to.
It was only a matter of time before schools, understanding the impatience of the common man, began assigning masters degrees for undergraduate work. The rush for completion has resulted in titles that a hundred years ago would be exceedingly difficult to achieve. A school has come to be judged on the expediency with which it can crank out professionals instead of the professionals that it creates.
This process of instruction is nothing more than a race to a finish line. And as we all know, a gentleman never rushes. This is true in all things. A gentleman never rushes because he knows there is beauty in process. A gentleman knows that the art exists in the care and thoughtfulness in which an act is carried out. And he knows that education is no different.
If a man eschews the liberal arts with the intent of pursuing a career, that man had deprived himself of an education. We have all had the opportunity to sit at a table with a number of professionals all in the same field. The conversation almost always turns to their work. Partially this is due to interest, but partially it is also due to a lack of knowledge outside that field. These people are one dimensional and it is through no fault of their own.
If you pluck one of those men from the group and try to have him converse with a professional of another field, more oft than not, they will barely get beyond greetings before they are both bored.
And as I have said before, boredom is the result of not understanding.
As gentleman, it is our duty to educate ourselves as best we can. This begins with the path we chose as young men, and carries on through old age. Our approach to education will forever change who we are. How we learn, how we understand, how we approach our studies and the dedication we apply to them will follow us our whole lives.
As gentleman, it is our duty to understand those around us. And without properly educating ourselves this is not possible. It is not necessary to go out and learn Latin (it wouldn't hurt) but there is a responsibility to read. Never stop learning. Your mind is the one thing the world cannot take away from you. And in this day and age, when we literally have the contents of the world's libraries in our pockets, it is a travesty to use such tools for games when we could be broadening our minds.
Never stop learning.
Until next time, be a gentleman.