Posts Tagged ‘education’

I use Wikipedia all the time, but it has been a long time since I’ve looked something up in an encyclopedia. But the other day I was doing some background research for an upcoming column and happened onto a beautiful and very meaningful article on the topic from the online Encyclopedia Britannica.

The search term I used was “tragic flaw,” which took me to a dry as dust one-page article on Wikipedia. But a half page down I noticed the unusual word “hamartia,” with a link to a 28-page entry in Encyclopedia Britannica. (Note: When I tried the link at work later, it only gave me a synopsis.) Whichever scholar wrote the Britannica entry, he or she produced a tour de force of literary and philosophical insight. I came away both moved and enlightened, and with maybe a deeper understanding of humankind and myself. It is the sort of experience I was looking for, and often found, in my literature classes long ago. It is, I think, the justification for the Liberal Arts in higher education.

Looking at college as career training is a lot like that Wikipedia page:  information without much context and with no particular impact on our humanity. We learn a trade, pick up some skills, and become useful economic participants in society. But do we polish our souls? Do we deepen our humanity? We learn to make a living, but rarely learn how or why to live.

We don’t need to go to some exclusive college out in the country or even any college at all to know ourselves. There is many a self-educated thinker and philosopher, Abraham Lincoln and Eric Hoffer spring to mind. The library is the treasure house of learning. But it takes tremendous discipline to really educate ourselves. Sometimes a great teacher can guide us into understanding. It’s happened to me a few times, and the memory of the experience lingers for a lifetime.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: