Education for Public Administration: Graduate Preparation in the Social Sciences at American Universities

By George A. Graham | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4 CURRICULUM

THE DESPERATE QUEST for unity in the social order has its counterpart on the campus. The educated man of only a generation ago left the university with what seemed to be a reasonably satisfactory understanding of the world and of life. Educated men as a group were familiar with a common body of knowledge that gave them a sense of solidarity. That easy unity of the body of scholars now seems to elude us. The frontiers of knowledge have been pushed back so fast in so many directions, and information has been made available from so many sources, that the honest scholar has lost both the feeling of satisfaction with his knowledge and the sense of union with his fellows. He finds himself not only ignorant but also isolated.

Some would restore unity to the campus in totalitarian fashion by cutting down the field of respectable knowledge so that a man could stroll about in it pleasantly without undue exertion. Everything else would be beyond the pale. Scholars would regain their sense of satisfaction and their unity of spirit through mastery of this predetermined field. Unfortunately this back-to-the-classics maneuver is bound to fail. Education cannot be achieved through ignorance nor understanding through limitation of experience.

Education is experience plus understanding, and the educational process is one of gaining experience and learning to understand it. The school, the college, and the university justify themselves on the grounds that they open the door to richer, broader, better-balanced experience than can be gained with equal speed in any other way. They promise to aid the individual to interpret and to appreciate with better insight and better perspective than he can find elsewhere. Because the process is necessarily so largely vicarious, it sacrifices vividness. But to the man who has a reasonably broad direct knowledge and a moderate amount of imagination, the sacrifice in intensity is not serious and is more than balanced by the gain in extensiveness. Through words, printed and spoken, he can tap the wisdom of mankind, past as well as present, distant as well as near. He can pass from age to age and jump from continent to continent with the freedom that is the peculiar joy of the educated man. No field is closed to him and no subject forbidden.

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