I periodically dip into my ever-growing “to read” pile and select a book that I should have read several years ago. So, a few weeks ago, I started on Anthony T. Kronman’s defense of the humanities and critique of contemporary higher education, Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life. Kronman served for a decade as the Dean of the Yale Law School. Since 2004, he has taught in the Yale Directed Studies program, which is a one-year “Great Books”-style program for freshmen.
Though I’m not sure he would enjoy the comparison, Kronman reminds me of many InterVarsity staff: he loves the university deeply, especially the humanities, and has a great concern for students, yet he’s convinced that, somewhere along the way, the university has gone off track. Education’s End is his analysis of how education has gone wrong, as well as his prescription for what’s needed to fix it.
Kronman has a specific ideal in mind for higher education: a form of secular humanism that he considers a “middle way” between the theologically-based education of antebellum colleges and German-influenced research ideal of modern universities.
Secular humanism neither reaffirmed the religious dogmas of the old order nor embraced the most radical doubts of the new one. It refused to endorse the idea that human life has meaning only in world created by God and directed toward His ends. But it also rejected the notion that we are able to create for ourselves, as individuals, whatever structures of meaning our lives require in order to have purpose and value. Instead, it emphasized our dependence on structures of value larger and more lasting than those that any individual can create. It stressed the need for individuals to locate themselves within these structures as a condition for their leading purposeful lives. (81, emphasis added)
Overall, I found Education End’s to be an insightful critique of higher education, yet one marred by a few glaring blind spots. Let’s start with the good, and I’ll come back to the less good aspects next week. [Read more…] about Have Colleges Given Up on the Meaning of Life?