The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word….
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
Such is the world which modern man has crafted for himself. Such observations of T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) from the opening of Choruses from “The Rock,” although transcribed in the youth of the twentieth century, bear no less veracity in the dawn of the twenty-first. Few domains of modern society have more greatly evidenced these truths than that of education. For all the billions of dollars thrown into the educational institutions, the disturbing rates of illiteracy have yet to ebb. Salaries may be raised, teachers fired, curricula swapped, school systems restructured—but the educational problems and the public discontent ever remain. Policies and programs and methods come and go in such a rapid succession that Edmund Burke’s quickly passing “flies of a summer” seem entities of relatively venerable age. Society proclaims upon one day that it shall leave none of its children behind and upon the next that every one of its children shall succeed.
However, as the faults of modern education loom ever the larger, in a leap of nearly universal irrationality, men place all the greater hope in education as a savior to abolish every other societal fault. Hardly a public ill or malady exists to which education has not been broached as a solution. In any discussion of inequality of housing, race, income, gender, etc., the conversation is likely to touch upon the topic of educational reform. Yet as much as the term education is thrown around the public discourse, few seem to have a firm grasp of what the word means. As the University of Chicago’s Richard M. Weaver (1910-1963) expressed it, the majority of the United States’ citizens consider education
a kind of conjuror’s word, which is expected to work miracles by the very utterance. If politics becomes selfish and shortsighted, the cure that comes to mind is “education.” If juvenile delinquency is rampant, “education” is expected to provide the remedy. If the cultural level of popular entertainment declines, “education” is thought of hopefully as the means of arresting the downward trend. People expect to be saved by a word when they cannot even give content to the word.
The problem of modern education is not a lack of money or a faulty system or poor training for teachers; nor is it some appendage or system to bring about education; rather, the root malady is the modern understanding (or misunderstanding) of the concept of education itself. Perhaps, what is commonly called “education” today is not true education at all. Men thus may “educate” and reap only ignorance. Information may be gained at the expense of knowledge, and knowledge gained at the expense of wisdom. To Eliot, such leads men but to death and to the dust from which they were formed.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God….
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.
. T. S. Eliot, Choruses from “The Rock,” in Selected Poems (Boston: Mariner Books, 1964), 107.
. Edmund Burke, “Prejudice, Religion, and the Antagonist World,” in The Portable Conservative Reader, ed. Russell Kirk (New York: Penguin, 1982), 32.
. The No Child Left Behind Act was passed by the United States Congress in 2001 and was later replaced by the Every Child Succeeds Act in 2015.
. Richard M. Weaver, In Defense of Tradition: Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M. Weaver, 1929—1963, ed. Ted J. Smith (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2000), 185.
 Eliot, op. cit.
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