The Meaning of a Liberal Education

By Everett Dean Martin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
THE CLASSICAL TRADITION--PLATO AND
ARISTOTLE

The classical tradition in education is one of the ironies of history. That pedants should have succeeded in making this tradition into a mere convention is almost incredible. In the poetry, drama and philosophy which we have inherited from ancient Athens there is a spirit of youth, of freedom, of inquiry, of adventure. In the estimation of Egypt or of India, the culture of Greece was parvenu. The striking thing about the Greek spirit is its humanism, its lack of priestly tradition, its independence of religious authority. The men of the fifth century before Christianity were creators, not imitators. They were following many lines of inquiry for the first time, unhampered by the prestige of orthodoxy. A noisy populace could condemn the philosopher but could not secure his deference to its beliefs. No idea, no institution was so venerable or sacred as to escape critical examination. The practice of examining all things was the method of education; its aim was the life of Reason. There was no official instruction, no established truth, no traditionally recognized knowledge. Student and teacher together pursued wisdom not as scribes and custodians of ancient and hallowed doctrine, but rather in the spirit of those who enter upon a voyage of new discovery. Such is the spirit of the classical tradition and no education is liberal which loses that spirit.

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