I was surprised to see Inside Higher Ed referencing Cardinal Newman in their latest edition (“How Would Newman Fare Today?” http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/09/17/newman) — admittedly, I don’t keep up with the announcements about beatification out of the Vatican.
But Newman, who I first read (with difficulty) as an undergraduate, still has something to say to us today in his most famous work — The Idea of a University.
In this work, published in the 1850s, Newman pushed an agenda that has resonance today: a broad-based, liberal education as opposed to a narrower, vocational education. In a time when students foresee multiple careers, Newman’s outlines for an education about knowledge, not about skills, speaks to us.
In Discourse V, “Knowledge for Its Own Sake” says that the point of education is to teach students “to think and to reason and to compare and to discriminate and and to analyse,” and goes on to say someone so educated can handle any career (or, in our time, many careers).
We live in an atmosphere, similar to the one that generated Newman’s lectures in the mid-nineteenth century, when liberal education is constantly on the chopping block (just look at the list of departments targeted in the Mansfield retrenchment, for instance). This past year the state system reviewed programs for majors inlcuded almost every French, Physics, and Philosophy program in the system.
A century and a half ago Newman defended liberal education and now they talk of sainthood.
Let’s hope it doesn’t take a saint to be the champion of broad-based education these days in the state system. Maybe just some administrative leader who understands that educating our students only for their first job, and without worrying about their non-working development or their civic development, is short-sighted and contrary to our mission.