The Outlook in Secondary Education: III. A Liberal Education

by Sir Michael Sadler - 1930

A liberal education is a discipline of body, mind, and spirit; a discipline which is not individual only, but also communal. It is evinced in an attitude of mind liberated from apathy and from self-will, in an attitude of mind toward life, work, duty, and the realities of belief. In it are blended freedom and discipline; questioning and awe; the education of the body and the education of the mind; training and self-training; science and letters; preparation for livelihood and for leisure alike.

THERE have been many definitions of a liberal education. Many writers define the product of a liberal education. Others define its aim. Others define the elements of which it should be composed. A few define the process of imparting it.

Among the definitions of the kind of man whom a liberal education should make, some of the most penetrating are by English writers. The gift of portraiture, which finds expression in many of the best English essays, novels, and pictures, leads some of our writers on education to delineate the characteristics of a liberally educated man rather than to discuss the methods of teaching which may be expected to produce him. They visualize their man as they hope to get him and slur over, or deal very sketchily with, the methods of his production. Take John Henry Newman for example. Evidently he had living people in his eye when he described the product of a liberal education. He thought of John Davison, who had been a Fellow of Oriel in the generation before Newman's time. He thought of Copleston, who was its Provost. Through his mind there passed a gallery of gentlemen—urbane, judicious, and, as he was fain to admit, rather pale in religious conviction—men who had been brought up to think enthusiasm impolite and to distrust, both for themselves and for other people, any impulse to thoroughgoingness on fundamental things. Newman had a poet's eye, and when he set himself to think what should be the product of a liberal education he saw people whom he had known and watched, and based his definition upon them. This led him into a quandary. When he had described the characteristics of the men whom he had thought typical of an English liberal education, he found that they were lacking in something. You can hear him ask himself what it can have been that the English liberal education, which he praised so much, had left out. He finds that what is missing is zeal for religion. And so his definition of the product of a liberal education is in two parts, which we have to put together in order to understand his full meaning. He describes first the marks of an educated gentleman: "a cultivated intellect, a delicate taste, a candid, equitable, dispassionate mind, a noble and courteous bearing in the conduct of life"; then he remarks that these qualities do not by themselves give us power "to contend against those giants, the passion and pride of man"; bids us remember, therefore, how much else is needed as a guarantee for conscientiousness, still more for sanctity—how for that a man needs belief which has impregnated the character with a sense of the divine mysteries and of human frailty, and of the duty of unselfish service—but he ends by leaving it to us to blend these qualities with the other characteristics which an educated gentleman should possess.


The view which Newman took is shared by Bishop Gore. "A man," he once said, "may be educated in history and educated in science, and still lack something, vague but of extraordinary importance, without which he can hardly claim to be called a really educated man. An educated man, by means of art or music or poetry or by some other means, must nourish in his soul a sense of the Eternal, a sense of that which was and is and evermore shall be, lying beyond all changes in human history and natural progress. This transcendental emotion is possible to the adherents of almost any conceivable creed; it is common to Herbert Spencer and Hegel, to Plato and St. Paul, but without it a man is without something so essential to human worth that he can hardly be called educated."

More realistic than Newman, more graphic than Gore, was Huxley. "That man has had a liberal education who has been so trained in his youth that his body is the ready servant of his will, and does with ease and pleasure all the work which as a machine it is capable of; whose intellect is a clear, cold, logic engine, with all its parts of equal strength and in smooth working order; whose mind is stored with a knowledge of great and fundamental truths of nature and of the laws of her operation. One, who, no stunted ascetic, is full of life and fire, but whose passions are trained to come to heel by a vigorous will, the servant of a tender conscience; who has learnt to love all beauty, whether of nature or of art, to hate all vile-ness and to respect others as himself."

These are descriptions of a liberally educated man as seen by three representative Englishmen, each of them, as the English are wont to be, a capable man of affairs, interested therefore in what a man does as well as in what he knows, but one of them by nature primarily a poet, the second a student, the third a scientist. Each in his different way believes that In the outlook of the educated man there must be an element of awe, whether he be, as in Newman's picture, delicately sensitive to the good manners of his time; or whether he be, as in Bishop Gore's picture, representative of one or other of the many variant types of culture found in our less settled age; or whether he be, as in Huxley's vivid sketch, first and foremost a man of science, alert but self-controlled, no narrow specialist but a lover of beauty in all its forms, fierce but compassionate, and respecting others as he respects himself. What in Newman's picture comes from Christian belief and in Gore's picture from what he calls transcendental emotion, in Huxley's comes from "fire." All three hold that the educated man will have, as Wordsworth said

"in least things an under sense of greatest."

A liberal education, though directed in the main to a man's use in the world, must not be altogether this-worldly. It must correspond to the nature of man; and in man's nature there is an incalculable element, something inscrutable, liable to explosion, or even to eruption, as if we were volcanic soil. Some of man's instincts, of his cravings, his questionings, and even of his discontents, point to there being a side of personality which lies open to something otherworldly, mysterious and unseen, or to be connected by hidden passages with it. For this reason (you will remark), any definition of a liberal education which has been strictly measured to the intellectual standards of a particular period; that is to say, which has been designed to enumerate the accomplishments expected from a cultivated man or woman at that period, and to indicate the manners and bearing which their contemporaries would admire, is judged by later generations to be inadequate and to have left out something which is of permanent value and significance, though it may be vague and undefined.


Of late a change, a significant change, has crept over our customary view of the place which liberal education should hold in English national life. Old notions of its being necessarily an exclusive thing, of its being in the main a class privilege, have been fading. We ask ourselves whether a liberal education might not be brought effectively within the reach of everybody; whether it could not be so widely diffused as to become more of a general possession and less of a deposit of culture guarded by a rather limited number of favored hands; whether we should not be wise to think of it not as a guarantee of fitness to enter upon a profession but as an atmosphere in which all the relationships of life may take on a deeper meaning and lose much of the monotony or staleness of routine.

Toward this new view of what a liberal education might be and of what it might do for the common good, our thoughts seem gradually to be turning. I am far from meaning that the new outlook is shared by everybody, or that even those who see this new hope for the future would claim to have thought out all that their hope implies or what will have to be done before it can be realized. But the change in opinion is not the less significant because it has come gradually after many slow steps along the road of widening educational and social opportunity, and because in many cases it has gently altered an old attitude of mind rather than wrought any sudden or conscious conviction. The change has very little to do with party propaganda, though leading men in all parties have put into words what was rather dimly floating in our minds. Mr. Tawney, for example, has written a book on Secondary Education for All, and about three years ago Lord Eustace Percy said at Edmonton that "we must maintain and preach always the fact that a liberal education, a humane education, is necessary for all the walks of life." The change which is coming gradually over our accustomed view of the province of liberal education is due, I think, to something deeper than political suggestion, to something which is even more fundamental than the shifting of economic forces. It is a sign that a new social ideal is shaping itself and is making us conscious that sooner or later our long-standing habits of education will be obliged to adjust themselves to still uncharted needs, now for the first time beginning to be felt, however vaguely and indecisively, by the community as a whole.

We cannot feel surprise at a new social ideal having an effect upon the educational habit which sprang from an older view of what the community should do for its citizens and of what every citizen owes to the community. Men's ideas of a liberal education have always been colored by the social outlook of their time. And the transition from the ways of thought engendered by a social order once paramount but slowly falling into decay is always made through a mist of compromise between obscurely conflicting forces neither of which is strong enough to assert full authority. This is the position in which we in England, and not we alone, find ourselves at the present time. An old order seems to be passing but we cannot yet discern clearly the features of the new order which by slow degrees will take its place. Hence our educational compromises are inevitable. But, knowing what the situation is and how uncertain are many of the factors which it conceals, we work on, not discouraged, through gradual readjustment toward something which we hope will be better than anything we have had before.

If we let our thoughts travel over the past, we see that many times in history men's ideas of a liberal education have been changed in gradual conformity with changes in their ideas of what is good for the community as a whole. In the Greek world Aristotle was one of the pioneers of liberal education. In place of neglect of culture and in place of slipshod ways of training the young, he wanted the birthright of free citizenship to carry with it an obligation to rigorous discipline for the discharge of duties to the State. The free citizen should receive a stringent education not only as a privilege but as a duty. Education should be a badge of a free man's obligation to promote the welfare and good government of his city. The free man's education in Aristotle's view was a liberal education. It should give liberty of body and liberty of mind. It should train him to make good use of leisure for the self-education of later life and for shaping policy through free discussion. By this obligation to be liberally educated, for public not for private ends, the free citizen would stand apart from the mechanic, whose training was for servitude, not necessarily an unhappy servitude, instead of for the different responsibilities of civic freedom. Aristotle was careful to point out that in the Hellenic world of his time there were many kinds of constitution, and consequently many different social ideals, and therefore different ideas of a liberal education. For us, Aristotle's ideas, which were the ideas of a reformer and not of a reactionary, are vitiated by the exclusiveness of their social application and also by their economic presuppositions. What we have to thank him for is his analysis of some of the elements of which a liberal education consists; namely, the foundations of humane studies (reading and writing), the practice of the body to grace and rhythm, and the imparting of a love of beauty, and for his brave contention that in a liberal education practical utility has a place. But we cannot brook the doctrine that a liberal education should be a sort of Royal Enclosure, entered only by a privileged minority. The Aristotelian view of society—that of a liberally educated leisured class served by the unprivileged who are illiberally trained for humble though necessary functions—has broken down at the bar of history. But it corresponded only too well with the convenience of the classical world, and its ghost has haunted English education.

Another adjustment of educational ideas to social structure was slowly achieved during the Middle Ages and as slowly became obsolete. The mediaeval conception of a liberal education rested on the seven liberal arts. An old Latin tag served as a memoria technica to recall their names and order. Grammar teaches us the art of speech; dialectic, how to get at truth; rhetoric teaches us the color of words; music teaches us melody; arithmetic, the laws of number; geometry, the laws of volume; astronomy, the movement of the stars.1 The liberal education of the Middle Ages aimed at the salvage of learning in a turbulent society. It secured a tradition of culture in a world often shaken by violence. It knew no social distinctions. It aimed at training those who were fit for letters to guard letters against the dangers which encompassed them. When learning was besieged, the seven liberal arts were its citadel. The mediaeval tradition preserved culture in a time of jeopardy. Aristotle's distinction between the free man and the slave had almost entirely disappeared. A new distinction between the man at arms and the clerk had emerged.

The Christian Humanists of the fifteenth century in Italy attempted to bridge the gap between the education of the clerk and the training of the man at arms. Best of them all, Vittorino da Feltre, sought to humanize the education of the court, to make letters courtly, and to forge links between the high-born and the humble by educating with the children of the Duke some boys and girls of talent from humble homes.

When Luther and the Reformation had claimed a stint of education for every boy and girl and when the Counter Reformation had shown that not Protestants alone were sensitive to the educational claims of the poor, Comenius, the Moravian, a sufferer like St. Paul from many kinds of hardship, disclosed the ideal to which the modern world responds; namely, that "all human beings should have a training in all that is proper to their common humanity." Toward this purpose, though with slow steps and through many defeats, the world is moving. Its realization is delayed by selfishness, by fear of competition, by color-prejudice, by defects of method, by lack of pence and of peace. But it has become a beacon toward which we steer.

Thus from Aristotle we may learn that a liberal education must not disdain utility but transmute it into an instrument of culture; from the mediaeval teachers of the seven liberal arts we may learn the necessity of hard work upon the elements of learning during the years of apprenticeship to a liberal education; from Vittorino, the gain which rich and poor may win from sharing in a strict and noble discipline of body and mind: and from Comenius that the essentials of a liberal education should be "in widest commonalty spread."


In but few of the definitions of a liberal education do we find any trace of the author having thought as closely of what the man when liberally educated is to do for the community as of what a liberal education when he has got it will have done for him. Still fewer of the definitions fix our thoughts upon the part which the influence and the sacrifices of the community bear in the giving of a liberal education alongside of the efforts which every student must in all circumstances make to win its benefits. A strong flavor of individualism pervades the definitions of a liberal education. They pay little regard to the bearing which liberal education should have on the welfare of the community; still less do they throw light on the question: What in a liberal education are the essential things which might be generalized for universal use and enjoyment? For finding the answer to this question, the older writers rely on religion. Many moderns, leaving religion out of account altogether, allow the question to remain unanswered.

Thus in most cases the communal benefits of a liberal education are taken for granted—rashly taken for granted because many kinds of liberal education are of necessity specialized and of any kind of specialized product there may be overproduction in relation to the needs of the community and its economic position. Yet the definitions imply that one may assume, without further inquiry or argument, the power of the community to assimilate everything of the nature of liberal education which any number of its members may receive. George Gissing makes the hero in one of his novels point at Mason College, Birmingham, as "a place where young men are taught a variety of things, including discontent with small incomes."

Sir William Hamilton said: "A liberal education is designed to prepare man as an end; a professional education to prepare him as a means or instrument." Sir William would admit that the same person may receive the two educations end on, but to distinguish them in this Aristotelian fashion is to suggest that a professional education in one or other of its multitudinous forms must be the lot of the great mass of mankind and that a liberal education, purified of any taint of utility, must be confined to the favored few who can afford a costly and protracted sublimation, and have no reason for being in a hurry to earn their own living.

And James Russell Lowell: "A liberal education emancipates a man from any narrow provincialism, whether of egoism or tradition, and is the apprenticeship which every one must serve before becoming a free brother of the guild which passes on the torch of life from age to age." Do we not here again get a suggestion of exclusiveness, of selection, of separation from the mass of a man's fellow citizens, especially as Lowell identifies a liberal education with a course of study which is remote from the common tasks of life?

Or Mark Pattison: "A liberal education liberates the true man in us from the shackles of human prejudice in which untrained minds are hide-bound all their lives."

The danger of a liberal education, detached from the common lot, is that it may make the man who receives it unduly fastidious, absorbed in rather selfish study and a little frightened by the rough and tumble of practical life. Against these dangers many of the definitions of a liberal education do not put us on our guard.

A liberal education, after long and searching discipline, and at great cost of toil and pain, may at the last bring to a man a kind of release. And, with that release, serenity of mind. But this is not the outcome of any one privileged course of liberal culture. Faraday attained to it as well as Goethe; William Carey, the shoemaker, attained to it as well as Henry Sidgwick, the college don. And this release and serenity come to many men and women in humble and inconspicuous ways of life, to men and women of deep human and spiritual experience, of whom nevertheless it is true that "Words are but underagents in their souls."

The most famous of all definitions of a liberal education is Milton's: "I call a complete and generous education that which fits a man to perform justly, skillfully and magnanimously, all the offices, both private and public, of peace and war." No words ever written make a more stirring appeal to the reader to fix his thoughts on the fulfilment of a man's duties in life as the supreme aim of a liberal education. But Milton's course of training, planned to achieve this end, was too onerous for ordinary minds, too costly for any slender purse.

The contexts of Milton's Tractate bring us to the third group of definitions—those which name the elements of which a liberal education should consist.


Matthew Arnold's definition is the most far-reaching of the moderns; in reality it is even more extensive than the encyclopaedic program of Comenius because of the weight of new knowledge which would now fall upon the student. For it must include (to a degree which Matthew Arnold did not himself realize) physical science as well as letters, economics as well as political philosophy. "What a man seeks through education," wrote Matthew Arnold, "is to get to know himself and the world. For this knowledge, it is before all things necessary that he acquaint himself with the best that has been thought and said in the world." To get a broad view of your subject on first entering upon its territory is inspiring. Some University professors give it to their students. Again, to climb to a point of wide prospect when one has already gone far into a subject, so as to see its frontiers and the lie of the land in neighboring fields of study, is profitable. Mr. H. G. Wells is one of the men who have helped us to realize the value of a panorama. But a boy or a girl or an undergraduate may be the worse and not the better for having to submit to the strict accountancy of a written examination on a mosaic of subjects in an encyclopaedic program of study.

Locke, as always, writes with good sense about this difficult question. "The business of education," he says, "in respect of knowledge is not to perfect the learner in all or any one of the sciences, but to give his mind that freedom, that disposition, and those habits that may enable him to attain any part of knowledge he shall apply himself to, or stand in need of, in the future course of his life." The defect in this definition is that it implies that education ends on the threshold of a man's adult duties.

Ruskin had, I think, a deeper insight into the fundamentals of national education than any other Englishman of his time, but his temper was fretted by failure to get himself understood and he often spoiled his case by tempestuous diatribe. For example, in a chapter on the future of England in The Crown of Wild Olive he defines true education as "not teaching the youth of England the shapes of letters and the tricks of numbers; and then leaving them to turn their arithmetic to roguery and their literature to lust; but, on the contrary, training them into the perfect exercise and kingly continence of their bodies and souls." These remarks, if made to the members of a City Education Committee assembled at a meeting with the usual agenda, would not be persuasive.

But Ruskin's definition of a liberal education is one of the few which look beyond the Individual to his part in the life of the community and which put self-training in its right position as compared with training passively received. "An educated man," Ruskin writes, "is one who has understanding of his own uses and duties in the world and therefore of the general nature of things done or existing in the world, and who has so trained himself, or been trained, as to turn to the best and most courteous account whatever faculties or knowledge be his."

Still nearer to the point of view which I desire to commend to your consideration is a passage in which Ruskin writes: "I believe every man in a Christian Kingdom ought to be equally well educated." This paradox does not mean that he thinks all men equally gifted or equally educable. The opposite was his belief. But he has a vision of a liberal education in which all may share, of a fountain to which all may come. "I believe every man in a Christian Kingdom ought to be equally well educated. But I would have his education to purpose; stern, practical, in moral habits, in bodily strength and beauty, in all the faculties of mind capable of being developed under the circumstances of the individual, and especially in the technical knowledge of his own business; but yet infinitely various in its effort, directed to make one youth humble and another confident; to tranquilize this mind, to put some spark of ambition into that; now to urge and now to restrain."

At this point we come to the stage in the argument when we should ask ourselves why anyone should wish to see a liberal education made accessible to everyone.

The answer which, I suppose, Huxley would have given to this question (at any rate the first answer which would have sprung to his lips) is that talent and character, however humbly born, should be given opportunity to realize themselves to the utmost and therefore should not be denied the early training upon which the unfolding and timely flowering of gifts of mind, especially in retiring and unselfish natures, in most (though not in all) cases depend. Let us leave, as Ruskin said, no Giotto by the sheepfolds. Not only genius but powers much less than genius are precious for the welfare of the race. Therefore we should remove, so far as may be, obstructions which hamper or choke their growth. This argument has not lost its force. Talents should not be buried.

The Victorian reformers were fighting against odds for more education. In their propaganda, therefore, they thought it discreet not to make points which might be used against them by intelligent adversaries. For this reason they said much less than the facts entitled them to say about the power of great ability to rise above untoward circumstance. They knew that, at the very time when our supply of schools was pitiably in arrear, England had blazed with genius, much of it genius which owed little to formal education and yet made masterpieces in words and deeds. They knew also that Michael Faraday who saw far into the fabric of things, who thought deeply, and who both wrote and spoke with mastery of his mother tongue, was an errand boy in the East End of London at twelve years of age and served his time as apprentice to a bookseller during the formative years, at which time we should now send him to a secondary school.

Nature is not always balked by human remissness in helping those whom she has bountifully endowed. But Nature is careless of waste, and we can help Nature by lessening waste. Waste of talent was hateful to Huxley. His remedy for Intellectual waste took the picturesque form of an educational ladder. But a ladder is for climbing, and "climbing" is not always the polite word to use about attempts to rise. A more romantic use of a ladder is escape. Escape from what? Some of Huxley's contemporaries thought of the educational ladder as a way of escape from the economic underworld into the sunshine of material prosperity. They had a static view of the then existing economic order and knew enough about its dark and unhealthy basement to understand a young man's desire to climb up into its well-lighted and sunny upper storey. But the true reason for giving everyone access to a liberal education lies deeper than individual advantage. It has regard to something even more powerful than the instinct of a threatened economic order of society to attach to itself, as an ally, as much as possible of the talent discoverable in the depths below.

What is it then that without imprudence we may hope to see as the result of a liberal education made universally accessible?

The danger of attempting to answer such a question is lest one should be caught up on what Tennyson called "the wings of prophecy" which generally means getting too far away from the firm ground of facts. Educational reformers have to put up with so many disappointments that we ought not to grudge them the joys of hope. But in their sanguine moods they come it a little strong. Herbert Spencer at one time believed that, if only people were taught what he wished us to teach them, the world would soon become what it ought to be. That practical and successful manufacturer Robert Owen believed that if fatherly governments would plant out their citizens in rectangular homes of harmony, naughtiness of every kind, public and private, from war to backbiting, would vanish from the face of the earth.

But looking at the matter more soberly, judging it as an actuary would judge it, what may we think likely to follow from an attempt to make a liberal education accessible to everyone; from an effort to provide what the poet scoffingly described as

"a universal culture for the crowd"?

Will culture be to everybody more attractive than watching a baseball game? Do we expect, as the rather prosy old man in Wordsworth's Excursion expected, that, if we give a liberal education to all,

"Earth's universal Frame shall feel the effect,

Even till the smallest habitable rock

Beaten by lonely billows, hear the songs

Of humanized Society; and bloom

With civil arts, that send their fragrance forth,

A grateful tribute to all-ruling Heaven"?

Do we believe, as Wordsworth's Wanderer believed, that these things would follow

"From Culture, unexclusively bestowed

On Albion's noble race in freedom born"?

Do we, as he did,

"Expect these mighty issues, from the pains

And faithful care of unambitious schools

Instructing simple Childhood's ready ear"?

A hundred years hence would it sound as absurd if we were now to say that a liberal education made accessible to everyone would be likely in time to bring an infusion of greater social equality into English life? Within my memory the changes in girls' dress have (at any rate to the untrained masculine eye) made women who once would have worn very different kinds of raiment in the street look much more alike. A more generally diffused liberal education might in the course of years give our people a livelier sense of being members of a community. Broad common interests, and these are what a liberal education gives, do not eliminate personal friction (life even in a monastery or a college is not frictionless) but they do enhance the general amenity of existence. I am far from underrating the instinctive good sense of the English people, but should we be the worse for being a little quicker at the uptake toward new ideas? And if we were, I won't say wiser but, just a shade more alertly intelligent? Our English liberal education is so strong in fostering the habits of corporate life that one might perhaps without being oversanguine hope that, if it were much more widely diffused, we should be found capable of a little more cooperation for the common good. In a great crisis we cooperate, but in the daily round and trivial tasks of city life we seem to muddle along more than we should if we really enjoyed cooperation and were bent on getting our towns as attractive and interesting and smokeless and well planned as our public authorities would no doubt be glad to make them if only they could be sure of our backing them up and of our responding to their claims on our intelligent and cordial cooperation. The English, we know well, have characteristics which are worth much more than quick intelligence. But a fair amount of time is wasted, a good deal of discouragement is caused, by our mental reaction to new ideas being a little slow, and by our not being very quick in seeing connections between one thing and another. If these are faults, a liberal education might do a good deal toward correcting them. As Newman said, it does increase our power of "seizing the strong point in a subject" and of seeing connections.

"To love her was a liberal education," said Sir Richard Steele of the Lady Elizabeth Hastings. But I feel pretty sure that a liberal education would not make us all love one another. Nor would it do away with envy and jealousy and awkwardness of temper.

A kind of liberal education is experienced by a mechanically minded man when he first has a car. He applies what science he has, and learns more. He gets further afield, sees life from a new angle, joins a fraternity of motorists. If he pays for his car by installments he pledges himself (like a poor man going to the University) for the sake of getting a wider horizon. Like an undergraduate he is conscious of having attained to a higher grade of social consideration. Cheap cars have carried us a little way toward a greater social equality. But there are moments when those of us who are pedestrians or tram-riders feel a twinge of jealousy at the motorist's power of going faster and farther than we can. We are fain to admit, however, that we do not really wish that cars had never been invented or that Ford and Morris had not made them cheap. And we should feel the same about the effects of a much more widely diffused liberal education.

But the names of Morris and Ford carry with them the thought of mass production. Will mass production be applied to a liberal education also? And if so, instead of preserving our native raciness of judgment, our free forest growth of different kinds of sentiment, will it standardize feelings and opinions? Mass production of culture for the crowd is not unlikely to have that effect, especially at a time when the cheap press, the films, and now the wireless are throwing a succession of similar tints upon our minds and talk, just as the talk about the races in the Hippodrome must have colored people's minds in Byzantium. So, too, the sentiments in the plays performed in the great daylight theater at Athens may have given similarity to the thoughts of the crowded audiences whose eyes were riveted for hours on the spectacle and whose ears caught the phrases of the playwrights' philosophy of life.

That we should become more organizable is one of the things which Coleridge thought likely to follow from our getting in England a better system of national education. He hoped that it would "form and train up the people of this country to be obedient, free, useful and organizable subjects, citizens and patriots, living to the benefit of the State and prepared to die in its defence."2 Coleridge had been reading Fichte, and he thought, as Fichte thought, that education, nationally organized for the people, would produce a happy combination of opposite qualities. "Free" you will observe the English were to be, as well as obedient; but, in their freedom, responsive to the calls of public service and, above all else, organizable.

Fichte more than any other man stirred up the Prussians to try a thoroughgoing experiment in organizing liberal education, and it is to German, more than to English, writers that we have to turn for a definition of the elements of which a liberal education is composed.


The Germans call the intellectual outcome of a liberal education general culture. General culture is partly an assortment of many-sided knowledge, partly the aroma of discriminating judgment which is supposed to emanate from the process of acquiring it. It is the distinguishing mark of an educated man. If he is well informed in all the main branches of study—linguistic, mathematical, scientific, and humane; if he is practiced in the technique of their methods of investigation and proof; and if he has been trained in the power of expression, both in speech and with the pen, he possesses what the Germans call Allgemeine Bildung. This general culture they hold to be the intellectual foundation of intelligent intercourse and cooperation in a modern State. They deem it an indispensable prerequisite for those who seek to equip themselves by specialized study for any kind of professional career. For more than a hundred years the Prussian and other German States have made it a fundamental part of their policy to maintain what are called higher schools in which boys destined for the public service, for the learned professions, and for the more responsible positions in commerce and industry may acquire the elements of general culture by means of a severe course of discipline and study extending over at least six years and conducted by trained teachers of attested erudition and skill. The Germans are naturally very proud of the schools which thus provide general culture, but they are not so fond of them as most Englishmen are of theirs, nor have they in connection with them the same happy memories of corporate life.

Until the changes which followed the democratic revolution after the War took place, the German higher schools, though not expensive, were in fact the appanage of the middle and higher classes. There was an unbridged gulf between the world of the elementary school and the world of the higher school. General culture was thus the badge of the middle and upper ranks of society. These ranks were regarded as the intellectual cement of the State. Their course of education was designed to make them, what Coleridge wanted Englishmen to be made, intellectually free and also obedient, useful, and organizable.

The key to the system is that (with rare exceptions) every boy stays for one year in a class and then is moved up with his classmates to a higher class in which he stays for a year. This process is repeated for six or nine years. And all the time the same group of boys form a unit and learn together every subject in the carefully articulated course of study which is prescribed by the government for the particular type of school. A boy has to keep up with his classmates in all the subjects which the program requires. There is not, as there is with us, a reclassification of the pupils in separate sections, with distinct lines of yearly or terminal promotion, in mathematics, in natural science, <and in foreign languages. All the boys move along the same trunk line in a train of class units, each unit learning together all the subjects assigned to that year of the school course.

This system is taken for granted by most Germans, although it is very different from the English system, and it is valued because it secures a high level of average skill and attainment in all the branches of a many-sided culture. It is esteemed by government because it is the most economical way of providing a stringent intellectual training for a great number of boys by a carefully selected staff of expert teachers. It is more successful in developing powers of assimilation than originality. It induces feelings of great respect for the intellectual authority of accredited experts. It does not allow, as our system allows, for a talented boy to reach a very high standard of attainment in one or other group of subjects according to his individual aptitude. Its demands leave little time for responsibilities in corporate life. The boys are well taught but the pressure of school studies is severe—so severe that very many Germans would like it to be made less exacting and less injurious to health. Yet it is found impossible to lighten the load without abandoning the central principle of the system. In our Public Schools which are typically English, we provide first-rate opportunities for the intellectual elite but make rather indifferent use of intellectually average material. Of the typical higher schools of Germany the reverse is true. Something halfway between the German and the English systems of secondary education might be the best system in the world.

But not through institutions like the Higher Schools of Germany could a liberal education be made accessible to the whole community. The kinds of training which they provide would not be congenial to every mind nor beneficial to every temperament; nor could they be imparted to everybody without producing on a ruinous scale what Bismarck called "an academic proletariate." Nevertheless, many-sidedness should be a characteristic of any training to which the name of a liberal education could justly be applied. We have, therefore, to find a middle way between smattering and overpressure. As a warning against smattering Locke says in his Conduct of the Understanding that in the course of our education we should learn what it means to "bottom" a subject, because it is only when it knows that it has got to the bottom of a question that the mind can rest in its search for truth. And we may take as a warning against overpressure, Bishop Butler's remark that "Information is the least important part of education." On the right training of the mind, which has a profound effect upon moral character, and on the use of the mind in the quest for Truth, Locke and Butler speak with preeminent authority.

What then are the elements which a liberal education should comprise?

Ten years ago when I was in India as President of the Calcutta University Commission, my colleagues asked me to write a description of a liberal education and were so good as to accept what I wrote, though they wisely added to it an allusion, suggested by Sir Philip Hartog, to what he called "the intellectual conscience." What I wrote, with that addition, is the following:

A liberal education should be given under conditions favorable to health. The body should be developed and trained by systematic and vigorous exercise. The eyes should be trained to see, the ears to hear, with quick and sure discrimination. The sense of beauty should be awakened. The hands should be trained to skilful use. The will should be kindled by an ideal and hardened by a discipline enjoining self-control. The pupil should learn to express himself accurately and simply in his mother tongue. Through mathematics he should learn the relations of forms and of numbers. Through history and literature he should learn something of the records of the past; what the human race (and not least his fellow-countrymen) have achieved; and how the great poets and sages have interpreted the experience of life. His education should further demand from him some study of nature and should set him in the way of realizing both the amount and the quality of evidence which a valid induction requires. Besides this it should open windows in his mind, so that he may see wide perspectives of history and of human thought. It should also, by the enforcement of accuracy and steady work, teach him by what toil and patience men have to make their way along the road to truth. Above all, a liberal education should endeavor to give, by such methods and influences as it is free to use, a sure hold upon the principles of right and wrong. It should arouse and enlighten the conscience, the intellectual conscience and the moral. It should give experience in bearing responsibility, in organization, and in working with others for public ends, whether in leadership or in submission to the common will.

Clearly, a liberal education of this kind begins long before a boy or girl is old enough to go to a secondary school. The first and crucial steps in it are taken in infancy and early childhood. The home is the nursery of a liberal education. The primary school should contribute an essential and formative part of it. For this reason far-reaching improvements in the conditions under which many primary school teachers have to do their work, and a reduction in the size of their classes (for almost all subjects) to twenty-five at the outside, are indispensable if a liberal education is, in fact and not merely in name, to be brought within the reach of all. Nor does a liberal education end with one's schooldays, or, if one goes to a University, with one's days there. Training and self-training must be the accompaniments of later life. Thus at the very time when the desire for a liberal education is showing itself more widely in all countries, our horizon also has widened and we realize that the process of getting liberally educated can and should be spread over a much longer time than was at one time commonly assumed. A liberal education is not the appanage of the secondary school and of the University alone, but is also the business of the home circle, of the primary school, and of the varied agencies of adult education. Some wise words of Wordsworth have therefore taken on a new significance for us to-day. "Much that is precious," he wrote in 1845, "comes into our minds not as knowledge entering formally in the shape of knowledge. Let us not put out of sight the knowledge which comes without being sought for, from intercourse with Nature and from experience in the actual employments and duties of life."

But it must have been in a mood of irritation that he exclaimed in The Prelude:

"How little those formalities, to which

With overweening trust alone we give

The name of Education have to do

With real feeling and just sense."

The Englishman's good sense makes him realize that education does not come from schools and colleges alone, but it is, on the other hand, one of his besetting mistakes that he underestimates what a great part good teaching, systematic study, and the intellectual tradition of fine scholarship can play in education.

Because in our education we attach too little importance to the kindling power of intellectual passion, to the flame of a desire for truth, we are in danger of spoiling our education by thinking too much about examinations and by failing to watch very closely the effect of our system of examinations on the minds both of the teachers and of those who are taught. In our educational outlook there is no blacker cloud than this. And things seem likely to get worse, not better.

By far the best statement of the danger which threatens to engulf our hopes for the future of education in England, and of the reasons for fearing that what may actually be done in response to the growing desire for a more widely diffused liberal education may hurt England by impairing her creative power, has been made by a man of very eminent authority, Professor A. N. Whitehead. He says:

The craze for general culture had produced a curriculum of four or five subjects pushed simultaneously up to a fairly high degree of attainment. Diffusion of interest stifles the keen curiosity of the normal child and creates in many a sense of failure or inefficiency. Interest in a subject can only be sustained by allowing a great deal of time for it and by a leisurely pursuit. The problem is to select for each pupil a region, however limited, in which he can attain some excellence and can acquire that sense of doing something well which, in the venture of life, is far more potent than culture. Education is not merely a problem of knowledge which can be solved by the implantation of inert ideas—that is of ideas not energized, not utilized, not enjoyed. But all the machinery of public administration is directed toward producing a good average of measurable efficiency—that is of efficiency assessed by the measurement of inert ideas.

For the reason which Professor Whitehead thus enunciates, I feel very grave concern about the future of English education. Public administration is indispensable, and we all know how well-intentioned are our English administrators. But the momentum of a great machine of examinations pushes us, helplessly I fear, farther and farther along the wrong road and farther and farther away from the possibility of making English education consonant with the creative faculty of many English minds. Inert ideas are at a premium. To implant them is the cheapest way of giving what looks like a liberal education. But inert ideas are a blight on the mind and on the individual judgment.

A liberal education should make us sensitive and keep us creative. Unless it keeps us creative it is disabling. The more widely we spread the disabling kind of education, the more we weaken intellectual and moral power.

A note of discouragement, however, would be very far from expressing my true feeling about the outlook in secondary education in the modern world. Within my memory things have changed marvellously for the better. The change, like all changes, has a shadow-side. There has been some loss (by no means due mainly to the schools but to deep causes which have touched the thoughts and faiths of men), and yet, so far as educational opportunity goes, the gain has been enormous. For this we are thankful, thankful not least to the influence and liberality of the United States. But in older countries we shall have to be content to advance gradually. Only by patience and constant effort shall we realize our hopes. Our public opinion does not yet fully comprehend what is involved in the purpose to secure for all citizens the opportunity of enjoying and profiting by a liberal education. It is not yet prepared for, perhaps not yet able to sustain, the real cost of transfiguring the conditions under which the work of our primary schools is generally done. But this basic change is indispensable to the realization of the hopes which the nation has conceived.

We may congratulate ourselves on the fact that the old idea of a liberal education being a privilege for the few has been given up and that it has been replaced by the new idea of making a liberal education accessible to everybody. A liberal education is an education for liberty. In a free state it is a necessary part of the charter of freedom. Boys and girls, rich and poor, should enjoy opportunities of receiving it in the form best adapted to individual temperament, psychological growth, and innate capacity. To spread liberal education "in widest commonalty" is the central and distinctive aim of educational policy in a modern democratic community.

But of all social reforms this will be the most difficult to achieve. Its attainment will, I think, involve a degree of discipline which is at present unpopular and a freedom of opportunity which in older countries is at present not yet enjoyed. Our first attempts to secure a liberal education for everybody may result in some disappointing and even sterile substitute being provided for many of the rising generation—partly because through use of the mechanism of public tests designed to select an elite and to stimulate the industry of pupils and teachers, we may inculcate inadvertently too many inert ideas, partly because we ourselves cannot yet be sure wherein the living principle of a liberal education for everybody will certainly be found. Perhaps, in our ideas of a liberal education, we still think too predominantly in terms of mental training and have not yet given sufficient thought to the place which the training of the body through muscular control of hand and eye, of trunk and voice, should occupy in the development of powers of mind. Perhaps rhythm of movement of speech and song; balance and grace; the arts of music, drama, and of vivid self-expression in conversation, in recitation, and in oratory, do not yet figure largely enough in our conception of a liberal education. Perhaps, in spite of all the changes which have transformed our ideas of education during the last fifty years, we are still too much under the influence of the literary bias of the mediaeval and humanistic schoolmen, and have still something to learn (though with steadfast loyalty to Christian restraints on conduct) from the practice and ideals of the ancient Greeks.

But we can go forward with rejoicing at what has already been achieved and with confidence that by slow degrees we shall come more nearly to the attainment of our hopes. We realize that a liberal education is a discipline of body, mind, and spirit; a discipline which is not individual only, but also communal. Our eyes have been opened to the truth that the angle of a liberal education subtends the arc of life from the nursery to old age. We perceive that the presence of a liberal education is not signified exclusively by any label, certificate, or academic degree; above all, that a liberal education does not mean the absorption of inert ideas in cramming for an examination. It is evinced in an attitude of mind liberated from apathy and from self-will, in an attitude of mind toward life, work, duty, and the realities of belief. In it are blended freedom and discipline; questioning and awe; the education of the body and the education of the mind; training and self-training; science and letters; preparation for livelihood and for leisure alike.


FIVE unusual opportunities to study and to travel abroad are announced by the International Institute of Teachers College, Columbia University.

Trips are planned to Germany, Russia, and France during the summer of 1931 and to England in 1932. They are sponsored by the International Institute cooperating with the Zentralinstitut fur Erziehung und Unterricht in Germany, the Pedagogical Department of the Second University of Moscow, and the Ministry of Public Instruction in France.

University credit will be granted to participants in these tours provided the requirements for credit are met.

The purpose of these trips is to provide American teachers with direct insight into the life and organization of foreign school systems. The work is so organized, however, that liberal opportunity is afforded members of the groups for intimate contact with many other phases of life and culture in foreign countries, such as music, art, drama, industry, agriculture, commerce, and politics. Definite provision is made for these phases of culture in the countries visited.

Under the guidance of foreign educational leaders, these trips offer most unusual opportunities to see schools in operation. This expert guidance ought to make the tours doubly attractive since it is not often that such opportunities are made available to foreign visitors.


Two trips to Germany are planned. The Prussian Ministry of Education renews its invitation to a group of American educators to travel for six weeks in Germany and to study German education.

This tour will include visitation to many important German cities, among which will be most of the following: Bremen, Hamburg, Kiel, Lübeck, Berlin, Magdeburg, Erfurt, Frankfurt am Main, Heidelberg, Mannheim, Koblenz, Düsseldorf, Essen, and Hannover.

All types of German educational institutions will be seen—elementary schools, secondary schools, rural schools, vocational schools, community and country boarding schools, teachers colleges, universities, and folk universities. All types of education will be observed—physical education, art education, dramatics, the Youth Movement, school organization, methods of instruction, outdoor life, playgrounds, and juvenile welfare.

While some of the visitation will be done in groups, the specific needs of each member of the party will be carefully considered. Each member will have the privilege of visiting those types of educational work which are of greatest interest and value to him. It will thus be possible for any member to study a special problem under careful guidance. Discussion groups will be organized as needed. Ample free time for sight-seeing and recreation will be allowed.

The total cost of the trip in Germany together with the ocean transportation to and from America amounts to a minimum of $650 to $700 depending upon the class of boat used. If credit is desired, $70 must be added to this amount.

The department of Natural Science of Teachers College, together with the International Institute, announces a science tour to Germany for teachers and students of science who are interested in studying not only how science is taught in the German schools, but also the biological and geological phenomena of various regions in Germany.

The itinerary includes a journey by steamer on the Rhine, walking tours in the Black Forest, the Bavarian Alps, and Saxon-Switzerland, and visits to several German cities, among them Düsseldorf, Cologne, Munich, Dresden, Berlin, and Hamburg. Phases of science education as seen in progressive schools, school gardens, school country homes, and museums will be observed. An unusual opportunity is offered for professional study and, at the same time, for gaining some acquaintance with rural and urban life and customs of the German people. Baggage is an important item because much hiking will be done. Suggestions for equipment will be mailed to each member of the course after registration. Overnight accommodations will be provided in German Jugendherberge (youth hostels) and in small but satisfactory hotels. Third class railroad trains will be used in Germany and tourist third steamship accommodations to and from Germany.

Members of the party will sail from New York on or after Saturday, June 20. One hour each day on shipboard will be devoted to discussion and conference on the material necessary to provide good background for the course.

The expense of such a trip is purposely kept low; it exceeds only slightly the cost of a summer of study in New York City. The total cost of the round trip, including tuition and complete traveling expenses, is $550. Of this amount, $75 is payable upon registration, to Dr. Thomas Alexander, International Institute, Teachers College, as registration fee and as deposit on the steamship passage. The remaining $475 is payable one month before sailing.


The International Institute of Teachers College, Columbia University, in cooperation with the Pedagogical Department of the Second University of Moscow, announces a Russian Educational Tour for the summer of 1931.

The Russian tour will begin in Moscow and will include a trip to Leningrad; then either a Volga River trip embracing Nizhni Novgorod, Kazan, Stalingrad and Baku, or a more directly southern route to Kharkov, Rostov-on-Don, Yalta, Odessa, and Kiev.

All types of Russian educational institutions will be visited—elementary and higher schools in both cities and villages, crib and nursery schools, children's camps and colonies, Young Communists' camps, agricultural schools, factory social agencies, mining schools, sport clubs, houses and parks of culture, institutions for the requalifying of teachers, museums and galleries, excursion bases, and children's theatres.

It is planned that the first few days will be spent at the Second University of Moscow where lectures (in English) will be given by Russian educators, in which the Soviet conception of education will be set forth and the different types of educational institutions explained.

American educators who contemplate joining the group must know that travel in Russia is more difficult than in Germany, France, or England. Actual train travel is not so comfortable as that in other European countries, nor are the hotel and restaurant accommodations so satisfactory.

The cost of this trip can be roughly estimated at $1,000.


The purpose of this summer tour to France is to provide American school executives, supervisors, and teachers with direct insight into the organization and life of French schools. It will give an unusual opportunity to study the rather complex mechanism of the French State educational system.

Practically all the schools of France—elementary, secondary and higher—are under the direct control of the central government. The system has the advantage of unity of curriculum, programs and appointment of teachers. Therefore, it will be possible during a relatively short visit to become acquainted with the whole educational system; namely, its origin, its purpose and aims, its methods and scholarly traditions. Furthermore, this tour will enable its participants to have intimate contact with other important phases of French life and culture, such as music, art, drama, industry, agriculture, and commerce. As a group, the members of this tour will be given, with the help of educational authorities, a freedom of information which is usually difficult to obtain under the highly centralized system of French public instruction. Individual interests will be taken into consideration and provision made for the study of special problems. For those who are interested, opportunity will be offered during the six weeks to study schools in Switerland or Belgium. The total cost of the tour to France will be approximately $600 or $700, exclusive of University tuition.


The purpose of this trip is to provide American teachers with direct insight into the organization and life of English schools. The trip is to be so organized, however, that liberal opportunity will be afforded to members of the group for intimate contact with many other phases of English life and culture, such as music, art, drama, industry, agriculture, and commerce.

The tour offers a most unusual opportunity to see English schools. All types of English educational institutions will be visited, such as progressive country boarding schools, elementary state schools, secondary state schools, industrial centers, English Public Schools, nursery schools, central schools, rural schools, settlements, adult colleges, universities, psychological clinics, and teacher training colleges. There may also be a chance to visit some Scottish schools in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The total cost of the tour to England will be approximately $600 or $700, exclusive of University tuition.

For further information regarding the Science Trip to Germany, address Dr. S. R. Powers, Department of Natural Science, Teachers College, Columbia University, and for information regarding the other trips, address Dr. Thomas Alexander, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York City.

1 Grammar, loquitur; Dialectic, vera docet; Rhetoric, verba colorat; Music, canit; Arithmetic, numerat; Geometry, ponderat; Astronomy, colit astra.

2 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, Constitution of Church and Slate, 1830, p. 63.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 32 Number 3, 1930, p. 256-256 ID Number: 6475, Date Accessed: 10/27/2021 10:25:43 AM

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