Thursday, April 9, 2015

Michael Oakeshott on education: being and becoming human

The marks of a good school are that in it learning may be recognized as, itself, a golden satisfaction which needs no adventitious gilding to recommend it; and that it bestows upon its alumni the gift of a childhood recollected, not as a passage of time hurried through on the way to more profitable engagements, but, with gratitude, as an enjoyed initiation into the mysteries of a human condition: the gift of self-knowledge and of a satisfying intellectual and moral identity.

Thus, this transaction between the generations cannot be said to have any extrinsic “end” or “purpose”: for the teacher it is part of his engagement of being human; for the learner it is the engagement of becoming human. It does not equip the newcomer to do anything specific; it gives him no particular skill, it promises no material advantage over other men, and it points to no finally perfect human character. Each, in participating in this transaction, takes in keeping some small or large part of an inheritance of human understandings. . . . Education is not learning to do this or that more proficiently; it is acquiring in some measure an understanding of a human condition in which the “fact of life” is continuously illuminated by a “quality of life.” It is learning how to be at once an autonomous and a civilized subscriber to a human life.

“Education: The Engagement and Its Frustration” (1972), in The Voice of Liberal Learning (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989).
Forty-three years later, Oakeshott’s words may serve as a strong reply to all efforts to cast education as the acquisition of “skills” for college and the workplace. Is your first-grader “college-ready”?

A related post
Michael Oakeshott on higher education

comments: 6

Fresca said...

" to be at once an autonomous and a civilized subscriber to a human life":
good to read, makes me weep how much I want to learn and keep learning this (and I suppose somehow teaching it too...).

The Crow said...

I know I have said this before, but it bears repeating: I wish I had had a teacher like you.

Then, again, maybe I did, but didn't appreciate what was transpiring at the time because of home life being what it was. Still - wish I had one who obviously loved what he/she was doing, like you do.

The Crow said...

PS: shame on me. There was Miss W; how could I forget her so quickly?

Michael Leddy said...

Well, thank you, Martha. It may be magical thinking, but I think that having one terrific teacher can make an enormous difference.

Michael Leddy said...

But I’m not referring to myself in that last sentence. :)

The Crow said...

Right! ;)