October 5, 2015

FREE MEN, NOT WORKERS:

Labor, Leisure and Liberal Education (Mortimer Adler, Imaginative Conservative)

There seem to be two ways in which men can be bettered or improved: first, with respect to special functions or talents and, second, with respect to the capacities and functions that are common to all men. Let me explain. In civilized societies, and even in primitive societies, there is always a rudimentary, and often a very complex, division of labor. Society exists through a diversity of occupations, through different groups of men performing different functions. In addition to the division of labor and the consequent diversity of functions, there is the simple natural fact of individual differences. So one view of education is that which takes these individual and functional differences into consideration and says that men are made better by adjusting them to their occupations, by making them better carpenters or better dentists or better bricklayers, by improving them, in other words, in the direction of their own special talents.

The other view differs from this, in that it makes the primary aim of education the betterment of men not with respect to their differences, but with respect to the similarities which all men have. According to this theory, if there are certain things that all men can do, or certain things that all men must do, it is with these that education is chiefly concerned.

This simple distinction leads us to differentiate between specialized education and general education. There is some ground for identifying specialized education with vocational education, largely because specialization has some reference to the division of labor and the diversity of occupations, and for identifying general education with liberal education because the efforts of general education are directed toward the liberal training of man as man.

There is still another way of differentiating education in terms of its ends. Aristotle often talks about the difference between the useful and the honorable. What he means by the "useful" and the "honorable" can sometimes be translated into extrinsic and intrinsic ends. An educational process has an intrinsic end if its result lies entirely within the person being educated, an excellence or perfection of his person, an improvement built right into his nature as a good habit is part of the nature of the person in whom a power is habituated. An extrinsic end of education, on the other hand, lies in the goodness of an operation, not as reflecting the goodness of the operator but rather the perfection of something else as a result of the operation being performed well.

carpenter-woodworking-toolsThus, for example, there can be two reasons for learning carpentry. One might wish to learn carpentry simply to acquire the skill or art of using tools to fabricate things out of wood, an art or skill that anyone is better for having. Or, one might wish to learn carpentry in order to make good tables and chairs, not as works of art which reflect the excellence of the artist, but as commodities to sell. This distinction between the two reasons for learning carpentry is connected in my mind with the difference or distinction between liberal and vocational education. This carpentry is the same in both cases, but the first reason for learning carpentry is liberal, the second vocational.

All of this, I think, leads directly to the heart of the matter: that vocational training is training for work or labor; it is specialized rather than general; it is for an extrinsic end; and ultimately it is the education of slaves or workers. From my point of view it makes no difference whether you say slaves or workers, for you mean that the worker is a man who does nothing but work--a state of affairs which has obtained, by the way, during the whole industrial period, from its beginning almost to our day.

Liberal education is education for leisure; it is general in character; it is for an intrinsic and not an extrinsic end; and, as compared with vocational training, which is the education of slaves or workers, liberal education is the education of free men.

Posted by at October 5, 2015 6:36 PM
  

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