June 8, 2013


Ave atque vale : Upon his retirement from Yale, Donald Kagan considers the future of liberal education in this farewell speech. (Donald Kagan, June 2013, New Criterion)

The liberal education needed for the students of today and tomorrow, I suggest, should include a common core of studies for all its students. That would have many advantages, for it would create an intellectual communion among students and teachers that does not now exist and would encourage the idea that learning and knowledge are good things in themselves. It would also affirm that some questions are of fundamental importance to everyone, regardless of his origins and personal plans, that we must all think about our values, responsibilities, and our relationships with one another and with the society in which we live. The core I would propose would include the study of the literature, philosophy, and history (in which I include the history of the arts and sciences) of our culture from its origins. It would be a study that tries to meet the past on its own terms, examining it critically but also respectfully, always keeping alive the possibility that the past may contain wisdom that can be useful to us today. It would be a study that was consciously and deliberately moral and civic in its purposes, eager to examine the values discussed, private and public, personal and political. Such an education would show the modern student times and worlds where the common understanding was quite different from his own--where it was believed that man has capacities and a nature that are different from those of the other animals, that his nature is gregarious and that his flourishing requires an ordered beneficent society, that his nature can reach its highest perfection only by living a good life in a well-ordered society. It would reveal that a good society requires citizens who understand and share its values, which includes examining it and them critically, and accept their own connection with it and dependence on it, that there must be mutual respect among citizens and common effort by them both for their own flourishing and for its survival. Students enjoying such an education would encounter the idea that freedom is essential to the good and happy life of human beings but that freedom cannot exist without good laws and respect for them.

Posted by at June 8, 2013 9:02 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus