Does Education Need to Have a Highest Good?

While mowing the grass on Sunday, here’s the question that was put to me through my headphones:

Is it possible to really have education — and hence to nourish imaginations — if schools refuse to define some highest good that is ordering educational life, some higher good that is transcendent or spiritual in some way?

Maybe this isn’t the typical issue that comes up during your yardwork, but it’s not uncommon for me. I was listening to the current issue of Mars Hill Audio, specifically Ken Myers’ interview with Anthony Esolen, Providence College professor, translator of Dante, and most recently author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. Myers put this question to Esolen as they were discussing the undergraduates whom Esolen teaches during Providence College’s 2-year, 20-credit required course for freshmen and sophomores, The Development of Western Civilization. It sounds much like the kind of thing that Anthony Kronman would desire for college students — except, of course, that Providence College, as a Catholic college founded by Dominican friars, is one of those “fundamentalist” schools that Kronman dislikes so much.

[By the way, you too can listen to Mars Hill Audio during your weekend chores. Mars Hill Audio generously offers ESN members a discounted subscription rate. I would say that it’s the best place for long form audio interviews with theologians, philosophers, historians, scholars, poets, and musicians about contemporary culture and eternal truths…but I’m having a hard time thinking of another place that offers them.] — Note: At present a discounted subscription rate is not available, ESN’s seeking to renew this relationship (2/21/2014, 8:41 AM).

How would you answer Myers’ question? For some additional background, Myers prefaces his question by distinguishing, per Josef Pieper, between “education” and “training.” Is it possible to really have education if schools refuse to define some highest good?

For record, Esolen answers, “Probably not.” What do you think? And what should be the highest good of education?

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Micheal Hickerson

The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.

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