My title may strike you as odd, whimsical, even wrong-headed. Surely education is a “good thing.” It is by its very nature beneficial, not harmful; promethean, not mephistophelean; our saviour, not our destroyer. The more of it the better.

But every one of these popular beliefs is doubtful. It all depends on what kind of education we are talking about, and what kind of people receive the education.

Let me say at once, therefore, that I am speaking of that kind of education which is secular, largely technological, and chiefly aimed at teaching people how to do things. This is, I believe, the public image. Every member of a liberal-arts college has at one time or another confronted bewildered or irate parents who demand to know what, after an expensive liberal-arts education, their newly furnished offspring are trained to do—what kind of a job can they get? It is difficult to convince them that the purpose of a liberal education is to develop mental powers, to sensitize one’s response to beauty and goodness, to expand and lengthen one’s outlook, to teach civilized emotions, and the rest. (It is particularly difficult because, in all conscience, these jobs have often not been done by the liberal-arts college. But that is another story.)

The menace of modern education is quite easy to define: Never have so many people, groups, and nations been able, because of education, to do so many things—and we are all afraid that they will now start doing them. To narrow it a bit: The menace is that of incalculable power (the product of knowledge) in the hands of bad or foolish men. The agonizing question now is not whether we can possibly learn how to do this or that, but which of the things we have the tools to do we should, by an act of ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.