Picking Up the Torch.

Holland House Library Suffers Damage

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Nock’s educational thought rests upon a fundamental distinction between education and training. Training means the learning of information relevant to the accomplishment of specific goals. Education in the proper sense refers to the study and mastery of a body of knowledge formative in character: formative, that is, of the learner himself. Genuine education aims at producing thoughtful men who have at their disposal a wealth of general knowledge, and who, in the light of this knowledge, can judge matters of significance in a disinterested manner.

Classical literature is employed as the best means to this end. The goal is not to produce professional classicists—scholarly specialists in antiquity, trained in collating manuscripts or interpreting inscriptions. Rather, the claim of Greek and Latin literature to pride of place in the general curriculum, says Nock, are that they comprise the longest and fullest continuous record available to us of what the human mind has been busy about in practically every department of spiritual and social activity. The mind that has attentively canvassed this record is not only a disciplined mind but an experienced mind that instinctively views any contemporary phenomenon from the vantage point of an immensely long perspective. [These studies] are maturing, because they inculcate the views of life and the demands on life that are appropriate to maturity and are indeed the specific marks, the outward and visible signs, of the inward and spiritual grace of maturity.

Beginning in the 1890s, says Kopff, the ideal of those in charge of instructing the young shifted from education to training. First on the reformers’ list of useless courses were Latin and Greek. But, as classicist Paul Shorey * recognized in 1917, the “dead” languages were from the start mere pretexts; the reformers had no more use for Shakespeare or Milton than for Homer or Virgil. There is a straight line from the introduction of the elective system, made possible by the banishment of Greek and Latin, to the current multicultural ideal of sampling Lady Murasaki one day and the Mahabharata the next.

(The Occidental Quarterly, June 1, 2009).

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* I can’t find the exact quote, but it is probably in The Assault on Humanism (Atlantic Monthly Company, 1917), or perhaps in “The Bigotry of the New Education” (The Nation, September 6, 1917).