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Necessity of Liberal Education

(A Review of: The Bearings of College Education on the Welfare of the Whole Community. The Baccalaureate in Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Delivered August 10, 1843, by Rev. George Junkin, D.D., President)

Brownson's Quarterly Review, April, 1844

A DEMOCRATIC friend, in one of the western states, sent us, some time since, this address by President Junkin, with a note condemning in severe terms its anti-democratic doctrine, and expressing a wish that we would seize an early opportunity, as they say, of showing it up. We have read the address with some care, and though we form no very high estimate of it as a mere literary performance, we assure our friend, that, with every disposition in the world to gratify him, showing up, in the present case, is quite out of the question.

Dr. Junkin opens his address with some miseries about self-love and selfishness, which he might have spared us; but his real purpose in his discourse is to defend the cause of liberal studies and sound learning,- a purpose which no one who looks a little below the surface of things, and who has the real welfare of the community at heart, can do otherwise than warmly approve. We do not think Dr. Junkin has been very successful in the execution of his purpose; his remarks are often in bad taste, and rarely rise above commonplace; he does not go to the bottom of his subject, and give us its philosophy, the foundation of his doctrine in the order of Providence and the nature of man; but he deserves honorable mention for the earnestness he displays, and the energy with which he protests against the popular doctrines concerning what he calls "college education." He, however, commits one mistake. He makes the question quite too special, by making it a question of college education. He should have proposed the question in its generality, namely, the bearings of liberal studies, of high literary and scientific attainments, in the few, on the welfare of the many. The question properly relates to the education, not primarily to the place or means of its acquisition. Grant us the education, and we will not quarrel with you about the conditions of obtaining it; whether it is obtained at college or elsewhere. The real question concerns the utility or inutility, in reference to the welfare of the whole community, of an educated class; that is, of educating a few to a much higher degree, than we do or can educate the many.

This question we ourselves took up, and treated with some little depth, from the scholar's point of view, in an oration which we gave at the commencement of Dartmouth College, last July, on the Scholar's Mission, and repeated before the Alumni and other Friends of the Vermont University, last August. Our purpose then, as we were addressing scholars, was mainly to make the scholar perceive and feel his duty to the people, and to stimulate him to its faithful and energetic performance, at whatever hazard to himself, to his own ease, wealth, or reputation. We wish now to consider it very briefly, from the point of view of the many, in its relation to the mass, the point of view from which the Address before us considers it.

We begin by assuming the necessity of education in general; that, whatever their native capacity, the mass are not competent to judge wisely and justly of the great matters which concern either their moral or material interests, without previous initiation, or preparatory discipline. It is on the assumption we here make, and on this alone, that is founded the necessity, the propriety even, not merely of colleges and universities, but of our common schools themselves. And yet, it is precisely this assumption of the necessity of education, that the popular doctrine of the day denies.

The eloquent, erudite, and philosophic historian of the United States, in an essay on the Progress of Civilization, contributed to the Boston Quarterly Review, seriously, earnestly, and enthusiastically contends, that "the natural association of men of letters is with the democracy," and on the ground that the great unlettered mass are better judges of truth in doctrine, of worth in morals, and excellence in art, than are the cultivated few. We ourselves, about the same time, without intending to adopt this doctrine to its fullest extent, nay, while actually denying it in general thesis, not unfrequently so far contradicted ourselves, as to give forth many sayings which implied it, in all its length and breadth. Nothing, in fact, is more common, than to hear whatever transcends the common mind condemned, not only as unintelligible to the common mind, but as unintelligible in itself, and, therefore, as worthless. "Why do you not write so as to be understood?" "Why do you talk so the people cannot understand you?" "If your thoughts are clear and intelligible to yourself, you can utter them so as to be intelligible to the common mind." What is more frequent than remarks like these? Now, in all this, it is assumed, that the common mind, without previous discipline, without any preparation, is perfectly competent to sit in judgment on all questions which, in any sense, concern the welfare of mankind. Hence, he who should tell the people that they must take time to study his doctrines, submit to previous discipline, receive the necessary initiations, before undertaking to judge of them, as whoso would comprehend the rule-of-three, must first become acquainted with the fundamental rules of arithmetic, would be looked upon as exceedingly arrogant and aristocratic. What right has he to pretend to be wiser than the people? What right has he to assume that he can understand what is unintelligible to the people? Away with the aristocrat, who would set himself up above the people, and require them to submit their judgments to his.

Now, at the bottom of all this, consciously or unconsciously lies the doctrine, that all real knowledge is spontaneous, that education is a deterioration, and that, as Rousseau says, "the man who thinks is already a depraved animal." Civilization, on this ground, results from and continues the fall. The nearer men approach to the state of nature, the wiser they are, the more confidence may be placed in their tastes and judgments. The child is nearer the state of nature than is the adult, and, therefore, the prattlings of children are profounder than the deliberate discourses of the matured intellect. Hence, the poet Wordsworth and the transcendentalist Alcott bid us sit down by the cradle of the infant, and learn the profound secrets of the divine Wisdom! Hence, on the one hand, the baby-worship, of which we have, within a few years, seen and heard so much, and, on the other, the profound deference to the superior inte11igence and wisdom of the uneducated masses so strongly commended.

And yet, the very men who would thus raise the uncultivated understanding far above the cultivated, are great sticklers for common schools, for the education of the masses. Who more eloquent, than they, on the necessity of universal education, on the terrible evils the more favored classes have inflicted on the many, by leaving them in ignorance? Who more powerful declaimers, than they, against the barbarism that confined all learning to the few, and kept the mass from the schools? Who more loudly boast that "the School-master is abroad," that the friends of humanity, daring as Prometheus in snatching fire from heaven, have wrested the keys of knowledge from the privileged classes, and that now science and learning are beginning to be diffused through the mass? Strange inconsistency! Scholars decrying cultivation, and yet boasting its spread! Nay, scholars of no mean repute doing their best to demonstrate the worthlessness of scholarship, and almost succeeding; for what can better show the vanity of scholarship, than the simple fact, that scholars can seriously believe that the un-lettered many are superior to the lettered few?

We have no space now at our command to trace this doctrine, which affirms the superiority, in all matters of morals, science, and art, of the uncultivated many over the cultivated few, to the false philosophy which has obtained since the time of Kant, and to the false theology, which asserts the native divinity of the human soul, and to show how it necessarily results therefrom. Those who are curious in these matters, will find that it is the offspring of German transcendentalism in philosophy, of democracy in politics, and of the theology introduced, and represented among ourselves, by the late pure-minded, eloquent, philanthropic, and gifted Channing. We loved and revered Dr. Channing too much, we feel too deeply the blank his departure has left in our community, and especially in the narrow circle of our own personal friends, to tread with the unhallowed foot of criticism on his new-made grave; but we believe, from the bottom of our heart, that his doctrine on the powers and worth of the human soul, as understood by his disciples, however it might lie in his own mind, has been, and cannot but be, productive of the most serious evils to the great cause of social and religious progress. It is part and parcel of the more general doctrine, that all knowledge, all science, no matter what its sphere or degree, is by immediate intuition, by what M. Cousin calls spontaneity, which assumes God to be present in the soul, and the author of all that is involuntary and instinctive in human life. But we leave this, for we have already discussed it at some length, and shall have occasion to refer to it again hereafter. Our present purpose is more immediately practical.

The popularity of the doctrine we combat has grown out of its being confounded with another doctrine, which, to a superficial view, may seem to have some analogies with it. A prejudice had sprung up in the popular mind against scholars, because it was felt that scholars used their superior advantages for their own private benefit, and not for the advancement of the people. If scholars had always comprehended and been faithful to their mission, as educators or as servants of the people, the present doctrine would never have gained the least currency. The real thought which lies at the bottom of the doctrine in the popular mind is, that scholars ought to serve the people, to devote themselves to the progress of the masses. This is, undoubtedly, the true view of the subject. But to mistake this view for that which makes the scholar defer to the masses, and to consult them as his judges, was very easy, very natural, in the case of all who had a horror of nice distinctions, and who regarded all efforts to be precise and exact in one's statements, as merely efforts to split hairs,-unworthy the least respect from a man of plain, practical, good sense. Hence, what should have been stated, in this form, namely: "Serve the people by devoting to the amelioration of their condition all your genius, talents and learning," came to be stated in this other form, to wit; "Serve the people by deferring to them, taking the law from them, and never presuming to contradict them, or in any respect to run counter to their judgments, convictions, or tastes."

The difference between these two statements, when they
are brought into juxtaposition, is very obvious. The first assumes that there is a work to be done for advancing the people, and that there should be workmen to do it; the second virtually assumes that there is nothing to be done for the people, that they are right as they are, and need nothing from individuals. In assuming this doctrine as your rule of action, you really assume that it is the scholar who is to be served, not the people. When Mr. Bancroft contends that "the natural association of men of letters is with the democracy," what is his secret thought? Is it that they are thus to associate with the democracy for the purpose of advancing the people, or for advancing themselves? Evidently, as the condition of advancing themselves; for he assumes the test of the excellence of scholarship to be in the popular taste and judgment. Scholars are not to associate with the people for the purpose of correcting or enlightening the popular taste and judgment, but for the purpose of correcting or enlightening their own. What advantage is this to the people? For what end would scholars exist? This would make the advancement of the scholar, not the advancement of the people, the end, and association with the people the means; which would be, under another form, the reproduction of the very doctrine intended to be condemned; namely, that the scholar exists for himself, and not for the people.

Assuming that the scholar is to defer to the people as the
condition of serving them, he can serve them only by tak-ing away what restrains them, not by adding any thing positive to their progress. The most he can do is to batter down whatever frowns above them, and clear away whatever obstacles the government, the laws, morals, religion, or education, may interpose in their path. This, to a certain extent, might be useful in given circumstances, but only where the whole moral, religious, and political order was wrong, and needed to be swept away. But in this case, he could render the people only a service of destruction, a negative service at best, and in a country like ours, where the established order is to be preserved and developed, not destroyed, no service at all, but a positive injury. We cannot, then, accept this doctrine, for it would impose on the scholar the duty of serving the people, by not serving them!

The other statement is the only one to be accepted. We are to serve the people, and, if need be, to devote ourselves to the cross for their progress. But this denies that progress is the result of the simple, spontaneous development of the divinity in humanity, and assumes it to be the result of long and painful elaboration. It assumes that there is a work to be done for mankind, a positive work, and which all, who can, are bound to perform to the utmost of their ability. Is anyone prepared to contradict this?

"But, in assuming this, do you not depress the common mind for the sake of exalting that of the few?" Not at all. Nothing is here said against the common mind. We simply contend that the amount of knowledge actually attained to by the common mind, is not all the knowledge necessary to the well-being of the whole community. To carry the race forward, to improve the condition of the mass, requires profounder, more comprehensive views of truth, moral and political, scientific and religious, than the common mind has as yet attained to, and to which it cannot attain without thorough mental and moral discipline. This is what, and all, we say. Touching the capacity of the individuals composing the great bulk of the people to receive the discipline, and, through that, to attain to the requisite knowledge and understanding of the great problems of life, we say nothing; we only say they cannot understand these problems without the previous discipline, and that these problems be understood is essential to the welfare of the community.

If the question before us related to the capacity of the masses to receive the discipline, that is, the natural abilities with which they, whom we in a vague way term the masses, are born, we should recognize individual differences, indeed, but no difference of caste or class. We yield to none of our democratic friends in our belief in the capacity of all men for progress. They are all capable of being cultivated, and the children of one class, perhaps, not more or less so than the children of another. All need to be cultivated, and none can know and comprehend without cultivation.

"But, is not what we call the common mind, that is, the average degree of intelligence of the great bulk of mankind, amply adequate to all the demands of society?" We think not. If it were so, we know not why we should labor for the progress of science, or the diffusion of intelligence. We readily admit that the common intelligence is often sufficient to judge of the practical results of the profoundest science; but, if the science of the few had not surpassed this common intelligence, could those results ever have been obtained? The people can often understand the practical result, when they are wholly unable to comprehend the process by which the result is obtained. Was not the process necessary to the result? Now you have obtained the result, it may not be; but how could you have obtained the result without it? How large a portion of the people are able to comprehend the Kantian philosophy, in the light and spirit of which is written the "History of the United States"? Yet, without days and nights, weeks and years, of study of that very philosophy, wholly unintelligible to the great mass of his countrymen, the author never could have written it. And now that it is written, how large a proportion of the people, all popular as it is in style and expression, have sufficient knowledge to appreciate, we say not the labor of its preparation, but the thoughts, the principles, the doctrines, which the author has embodied in it, and of which it is the vehicle to those whose studies have initiated them into the author's modes of thinking? Who that has attempted discussions a little out of the common order, but has been taken all aback by the vacant stare of his auditory? It is not in the spirit of idle complaint, that he who attempts to discuss the more important philosophical, theological, or ethical problems, demands a "fit audience, though few." The want of a "fit audience" is the great difficulty and discouragement of every genuine scholar, who would speak as a master, and not as a mere pupil. Every great man is misapprehended, misrepresented, and, therefore, abused and persecuted, till he has succeeded in making to himself a public, disciplined by his labors to understand and appreciate him. It is often more difficult to communicate the truth than it is to discover it. Your words shall be crammed full and running over with meaning, and a meaning which embraces the universe, moves and agitates your whole soul, exalts you to the highest pitch of enthusiasm, and yet to your hearers they shall be only the veriest commonplaces, which you would be ashamed to utter to an auditory of clever lads, a dozen years old. "0, you mean only this." "Yes, I understand you." "All very true, very true." The blockheads! they are as far from understanding you as Satan is from loving goodness. Tell them that your meaning lies deeper, and is broader, than they suspect, and forthwith they turn upon you, and demand, why you do not speak so that they cau understand you. Alas! they little suspect that the darkness is in them, and not in you. The thought they could take in, -well, let it pass. Every man, who has any profound, or really valuable knowledge of his own, knows how difficult it is to make himself generally intelligible, that the best part of his knowledge he never can communicate, because, alas! his countrymen have not the previous mental and moral discipline necessary to enable them to understand him.

That often much passes for education which is not, that often men are classed where they do not belong, some with the educated who ought to be classed with the uneducated, others with the uneducated who ought to be classed with the educated, we by no means deny. All is not gold that glisters. That there are quacks with diplomas in their pockets, as well as quacks without diplomas, none but a quack would undertake to deny, -or to prove. But this has nothing to do with the argument. We care not what men are called; the question is, not what they are said to be, but what they are; and our position is merely, that, without discipline, somehow obtained, without extensive observation, long and patient study, they are not able to comprehend any of the great problems of life. We know colleges, sometimes, and not unfrequently, send out dunces; and that wise, shrewd men, profound men, learned men, able to instruct their age, are sometimes found among those who have had little direct advantage of the schools. But to say that these last are uneducated men, is absurd. Read the history of their lives, and you will find that they have been among the hardest students of their times.

Now, if we are right, in assuming the necessity of educating the common mind, in order to prepare it for the comprehension of the great problems of life, the real question before us is decided, and the necessity of liberal studies, and high literary and scientific attainments, is demonstrated. There cannot be education without educators. There must be some in advance of the mass, to be in some way, directly or indirectly, the educators of the mass, or the mass cannot be educated. Colleges and universities would seem, then, to be essential as the condition of educating the educators; at least, there should be some means provided for the education of the few above that of the mass; for if none rise above the level of the mass, there will be none to quicken and direct the common mind, which, in that case, instead of being progressive, must remain stationary.

"Then you would have a caste of scholars, raised above
the people, to whom the people must submit ?" Nonsense! Be not so afraid, that, if one happens to know more than his neighbors, you are forthwith to be saddled with an aristocracy. We demand education, and we demand, as the condition of the welfare of the whole community, that the few be educated beyond the degree to which is is possible to educate the many. The reason why the many cannot attain to the highest education necessary, need not be looked for in their want of natural capacity, but in their want of leisure and opportunity. "Then, why not extend the leisure and opportunity to all?" We should, unquestionably, do so as far as possible; but we cannot extend them in a sufficient degree to all, because the material interests of society, the industrial labor necessary for the support and comforts of life, will not permit it to be done. The merchant demands the practical results of the profoundest legal knowledge; require him to master the processes by which those results are obtained, and he must cease to be a merchant, and become a lawyer, for they demand the labor of one's whole life. The simplest communicant demands, for his spiritual nutriment, the results of the profoundest theological researches; but if he should go into these
researches himself who would cultivate his potato patch ? The possibility of combining in the same person, from his youth up, the necessary industrial labors for his material interests, with the highest intellectual and scientific culture, though once a favorite dream of ours, strikes us as more and more problematical, the older we grow. No man can serve two masters. Either he will neglect his studies or his living. If he is to be a successful student, he must be free from drudgery the hours he devotes to relaxation from study.

"Nevertheless, you insist on an educated class." Certainly. But not on a class to be educated. The education determines the class, not the class the education. And here, again, is seen the popular character of colleges and universities, and why in republican countries they should be especially encouraged. Neglect your colleges and universities, and turn your whole attention to common schools, and you build up an aristocracy at once; for nobody can be really so silly as to suppose our common schools, which can at best give only a little elementary instruction, can ever be made to meet all the demands of a finished education. The higher, more thorough, and more finished education will then be possible only to the children of the rich. Then it will be not the education that determines the class, but the class that determines the education. The true interest of republics is to found, and liberally endow, colleges and universities, so as to bring the highest education within the reach of individuals from the humblest classes. The rich can educate their children without these institutions, by private tutors, or by private seminaries. Demolish these institutions, and the evil would fall very lightly on the wealthy, but with a crushing weight on the gifted sons of the poor.

"But, once more; you are for an educated class, which is to know more than the people at large." .And what then? Is it a serious evil to those who know little, that there are others who know more than they do? Is a great, a wise, a learned man, a curse to us ? Are we the worse for our Washingtons, Jeffersons, Adamses, Hamiltons, Websters, Calhouns? Out upon the slander! The people never think so. They are wiser and juster than they who profess to speak in their name. They crave the great man, and rejoice when they find one whom they may trust and reverence. So fond are they of the great man, the hero, that they will sometimes be carried away by his counterfeit. Let us have none of this feeling, that no one must be above us. It was the unwillingness to admit aught superior to himself, that converted Lucifer, the son of the morning, into the prince of hell.

"But you would deprive the common mind of its rights;
you require the people to sustain a class to think for them, instead of thinking for themselves." Nonsense, again. Just as if a man, not a downright fool, could seriously propose that the people should blindly surrender their own judgments to anybody whatever! Do try to understand one a little better, and show, at least, that you have a judgment to surrender. In God's name, in humanity's name, let the people exercise all the mind they have, and their own judgments to their utmost capacity. All we ask of them is, that they seek to understand before they judge; and all we complain of in them is, that they undertake to judge without first having qualified themselves to judge, that they judge before knowing enough to judge wisely. We would have them understand for themselves, and what we want scholars for is, to assist them to understand for themselves. We certainly do demand teachableness in the people; a modest self-distrust, a willingness to suspend their judgments till they have become acquainted with the subject in question. We certainly do feel a little indignant when we meet a man, nominally educated or not, deciding, off-hand, on matters of the most momentous concern, on which he has never seriously reflected one half-hour in his life. We certainly have no very profound respect for the youngster hardly breeched, who undertakes to decide questions against him who has devoted a long life, rare abilities, and rarer opportunities, to their investigation, and we have an irresistible impulse to whip him back under the charge of his nurse. But we ask no surrender of the understanding. If the people will but exercise their understandings, so as to judge understandingly, we shall be satisfied. The evil is, they will not understand; they will not take the pains to inform themselves, and yet they insist upon it, that you shall have the profoundest respect for their crude notions, and their ill-formed judgments, although the result of an ignorance so profound, that you see, at once, it cannot be refuted.

We ask, indeed, for an educated class, and we ask it not for the benefit of its members, but for the advancement of the general intelligence, as the indispensable condition of the progress of the people. We ask such a class in these times, as a feeble antagonist at least, to the all-triumphant money power. We would raise up MIND, high and thorough SCHOLARSHIP, against WEALTH. We demand it, too, as a barrier against the licentiousness of our times, the loose radicalism, the looser infidelity, and the still more destructive sectarianism, which are now threatening our country with ruin. The situation of our country is alarming. Dangers, numerous and threatening, hang over us, and we have no hope, but in the educated men, the SCHOLARS of the country. It is for them to come to the rescue. It is on their fidelity to their mission, and their boldness, energy, and devotion to truth and social progress, that the salvation of the country, under Providence, depends.

As to the charges of aristocracy, which sciolists and demagogues may bring against these views, we treat them with scorn. A man who has grown gray in the cause of the people, who is indebted to his advocacy of that cause for the place he holds, however unimportant it may be, in the hearts of his countrymen, is full as likely to remain true to it, as to desert it; and full as likely to comprehend the bearing of what he advances on that cause, as are these sciolists and demagogues themselves, who praise the people that they may the more successfully plunder them. We care not for their barkings, come they from what quarter they may. We say to the Scholars, do your duty. Remember that you live not for yourselves, but for the people, and the more of you there are, and the wiser and profounder you are, so
much the better.