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.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”?
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).
A related post
Michael Oakeshott on higher education