“The complexity of our present trouble suggests as never before that we need to change our present concept of education. Education is not properly an industry, and its proper use is not to serve industries, either by job-training or by industry-subsidized research. Its proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible. This cannot be done by gathering or “accessing” what we now call “information” – which is to say facts without context and therefore without priority. A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important than other things; it means putting first things first.”
– Wendell Berry (1934–) American novelist, poet, academic, cultural critic and farmer.
This quote was sent to me by a friend who frequently sends me these pithy quotations, and I thought this one was particularly good since it addresses an issue that has considerable currency in higher education debates. In addition to the obvious question of the future centrality of the liberal arts and humanities in the core curriculum, it has relevance to the battle over what constitutes free expression on college campuses. And on this point, this line has particular relevance: “A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important than other things; it means putting first things first”. Why? Because essentially, this means that, in addition to the protection of the principle of free expression on the campus, it is at least as important to consider context–what is being expressed and taught in the college classroom. Curriculum matters. Truth matters. And these principles are at least as relevant in the liberal arts as they are in the sciences, engineering, and law, maybe even more.