A Plea For A Liberal Education -- By: James King Newton

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 042:165 (Jan 1885)
Article: A Plea For A Liberal Education
Author: James King Newton


A Plea For A Liberal Education1

James King Newton

In the first complete treatise on education in English,2 Roger Ascham says: “We have not to train a soul, nor yet a body, but a man; and we cannot divide him.” Most of those who have discussed and defined education of late have divided the man, and have emphasized their definition of education according to that part of the man they were considering.

The demands which society makes upon a man are immeasurably increased since the days of Ascham. Hence the education which makes a man now must be greatly extended and filled out; for, as Dr. Arnold says, “it is clear that in whatever it is our duty to act, those matters also it is our duty to study.”3 And yet it is true that Ascham’s statement of the work of education fits the case to-day as well as it did three hundred years ago, although it rules out many a later definition. For, as, to make a well-proportioned, undivided man (not merely a scholar) was, in the opinion of those great scholars, the only legitimate ideal of all education; so, in these later days, many think it is only that training which makes a well-proportioned, undivided, nineteenth-century man that can be called a liberal education. If the exclusive study of the

practical and the applied disturbs the proportion and divides the man, no less does the exclusive study of the abstract and the unpractical.

It is just possible that all educators, from Ascham and Milton to those of the present day, would have agreed in theory and practice in this matter, if the great multiplicity of subjects for study had not presented practical difficulties as to time and arrangement. For, while there is now so much to learn, human life is not lengthened and the years of study, if not nominally fewer, are much more disturbed; and consequently, as it becomes more and more evident that no human mind or mortal life can compass all subjects, and that most minds and lives can do well not more than one or two, the masters of each subject become more and more partisan, and in the ranks of each department arises the desire — and the determination — to prove that one department offers the most of what is to be gained in all. And so they take a part for the whole and divide the man.

It would seem that learning should save from this narrowness; but it does not. And it is this spirit of the specialist and the partisan which weakens on all sides the argument of all parties in favor of any partial and particular education, and presents t...

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