Monday, January 12, 2009

Our English Syllabus

In his work "Our English Syllabus", C.S. Lewis is attempting to explain the rationale behind the selection of courses chosen for the English students at Oxford. Within this context, he also explains not only the difference between learning and education but also the reason why students should strive to learn.

To begin, Lewis defines the purpose of education as "that fitting of a man 'to perform justly, skilfully, and magnanimously all the offices both private and public, of peace and war.' " In other words, education enables students to become "good men" who are of "good taste and good feeling, the interesting and interested man, and the almost happy man." He then compares this form of education with vocational training. It is here that he states first, "vocational training [is] for slaves" and that "if education is beaten by training, civilization dies." 

In this point, I disagree with Lewis for two main reasons. The first regards the statement that vocational training is for slaves. I disagree with this statement because vocational training and specialization does not enslave a person. Lewis does qualify this phrase slightly by saying, "our ideal must be to find time for both education and training." However, he goes on to basically promote the idea that education is far superior to training. But if we think of this idea in terms of the Calvinist's idea of vocation, there is a certain shift in perspective. Even if we are merely training, we can still find joy and meaning in serving others and our Lord. 

My second objection is to the idea that civilization would die if education is beaten by training. In our world of specialization, many are not "educated" in the way that Lewis uses the word. In other words, training is winning the war. But is civilization really dying? I would say no. This is a very minute point within his whole essay, however.

Overall, I would agree that more emphasis must be placed on learning instead of education as we know it. If all we care about is grades or getting into a graduate program, we lose that sense of self-education and learning. We must take the time to dig deep into a certain topic, learning everything. 

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