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A perfect Education: Growing up in Utopia

reviewed by Jack Cousins - 1967

coverTitle: A perfect Education: Growing up in Utopia
Author(s): Kenneth E. Eble
Publisher: John Wiley, New York
ISBN: , Pages: , Year:
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At first the title of this book may appear somewhat presumptuous, but it does catch the eye; and this is at least one function of a title. Upon learning that Mr. Eble is a professor of English, one might expect his book to be one more vindictive attack upon public schools, public school teachers, and the institutions which admit that they attempt to educate young people for careers as public school teachers. After reading the book, however, one is not apt to think the title presumptuous; and, be the reader educationist or academician, he is likely to be quite favorably impressed. Also, he may be, from time to time, delighted, embarrassed and perhaps angry, depending upon how defensive he is about his educational beliefs. But in any case, this is one of the most refreshing and penetrating reviews of American education to appear in a long time.

The book contains little that is entirely new. It is rather an extremely literate synthesis of ideas that reflective professors state in private conversations, but rarely have the audacity to state in public, let alone print in a book. In poetic style, which is occasionally more clever than profound, Mr. Eble discloses his deep love for learning and his respect for the learner. The book focuses on educational cliches which are attacked in a tone reminiscent of Emerson.

To Mr. Eble, learning is perhaps the most important thing in life. It can be preparation for future living and future learning, but more importantly, it is life. To learn is to live—to live is to learn; and when education is used primarily to prepare the learner for something else, its true value and appeal are subverted. In this sense, the author is concerned deeply about the absence of play in the elementary school, the lack of reflection and wondering in the secondary school, and the subversion of college learning to fancy curricular designs or efficiency measures.

In a day of curriculum change from the kindergarten to the graduate schools, Mr. Eble takes the position that the importance of the instructor is of far more significance than particular curricular organization. He pleads for a re-dedication to undergraduate teaching because the widening gap between students and professors is destroying the romance of learning, and believes that if one is to learn, one must feel strongly. The idea that learning can be reduced to computers and measures of efficiency is rejected. For a moment, let the author speak for himself. On elementary education, for example:

More positively, they (children) must laugh greatly. For children, solemnity is like a whole pane of glass in an abandoned building. Solemnity invites shattering.

Laughter, love, and learning are most closely and ideally related in play.

On secondary education:

Education should worry less about articulation between levels of learning and more about fostering the imagination that leaps over gaps.

A child is underprivileged for being underexposed.

To put it bluntly, who wants a dumb teacher?

It strikes me that both the colleges and universities and the schools of education are responsible for the discouraging fact that teaching in the public schools is the only profession that is repudiated by those who train the practitioners.

About classics in high school literature classes:

Unfortunately, they are not very good books for encouraging and sustaining a love of reading in twentieth-century adolescents.

On what is worth knowing:

What indeed should a person know? Primarily, he should know ways of knowing. The far more important point is whether knowing causes any change in one's outlook toward the world or oneself.

On changes in high schools and colleges:

The only heartening aspect of the conditions that mark the beginning of post-high-school education is to be found in the high schools themselves, where various programs for superior students have begun to take over many of the customary studies of freshman year, many of the texts, and some of the approach and vigor formerly associated with beginning college work. The first years of college have been left higher and drier than ever—not very high, as a matter of fact, but certainly dry.

On college education:

I would propose that a large college or university (for the situation is not so acute in the smaller schools) look at its teaching not from the professor's end, the department's end, but from the student's.

The university has no business being as dull as life.

In turn, the seriousness of the professor infects the student body, the graduate school grimness creeps down into the undergraduate years, and before long— unless the professor looks askance at his own absurdity or the students reject such joyless pedantry—education gives up joy and gains little in return.

In general:

Education cannot change the ultimate facts of decline and death, but it can plunge one into life and keep one there.

Education, above all, gives value to life.

It will be the rare reader who will agree with all the ideas expressed in this book or with the assumptions upon which they are based. Some may criticize the book for being exactly what the author intended it to be, a plea for an education which will equip the learner for life in a truly open society. But the presentation is so delightful that when the author does place some of our "sacred cows" upon the altar, the anguish is not as great as it might have been had the sacrificial knife been plunged by one whose educational thought was rusty and dull.

If this book has weaknesses, they stem from the difficulty one has in categorizing the philosophical beliefs of the author. At various times one might think him to be a pragmatist, classicist, realist or even a re-constructionist. On the other hand, this may be a strength. Readers should be careful to read the book Mr. Eble wrote, not something he did not write.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 68 Number 8, 1967, p. 677-677
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 2216, Date Accessed: 5/28/2022 8:12:23 PM

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