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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"The End of Education"

My Notre Dame colleague, philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, has this provocative essay ("The End of Education:  The Fragmentation of the American University") in the latest issue of Commonweal magazine.  The piece opens with this:

What should be the distinctive calling of the American Catholic university or college here and now? It should be to challenge its secular counterparts by recovering both for them and for itself a less fragmented conception of what an education beyond high school should be, by identifying what has gone badly wrong with even the best of secular universities. From a Catholic point of view the contemporary secular university is not at fault because it is not Catholic. It is at fault insofar as it is not a university.

Yet the major Catholic universities seem unlikely to accept this calling, if only because their administrative leaders are for the most part hell-bent on imitating their prestigious secular counterparts, which already imitate one another. So we find Notre Dame glancing nervously at Duke, only to catch Duke in the act of glancing nervously at Princeton. What is it that makes this attitude so corrupting? What has gone wrong with the secular university?

(Cf., e.g., Marty Peretz.)  Notwithstanding this initial focus on the Catholic university, the piece has a lot to say about universities, and university education, generally.  I wonder, does it have anything to say about law schools and legal education?  More after the jump . . .

MacIntyre discusses (and, for the most part, laments) the "multiplication of disciplines", the "increasing specialization by scholars", and the "transformation of university or college teachers into professionalized, narrowly focused researchers who also happen to teach", and the "changing education of our students".  He sets out some questions -- questions about what it means to be human, and about how all the things we know and questions we ask fit together -- and then suggests a radical re-structuring of education:

From these three sets of questions a tripartite curriculum emerges. One element is mathematical and scientific, extending beyond physics to the chemistry and neurophysiology needed to understand recent discoveries about the brain. Another is historical, situating the history of ideas in their social, political, and economic contexts. And a third consists in linguistic and literary studies. All three have a philosophical component: philosophy of mind and body, the philosophical questions raised by different aspects of our past history, the interpretive and evaluative questions posed by our relationship to other cultures. So the faculty needed to teach this curriculum would consist of mathematicians, physicists, some types of biologists, intellectual, social, and economic historians, teachers of English and of one or two other languages and literatures, anthropologists, and philosophers. But it would be crucial that this should be a faculty dedicated not only to the teaching of their own discipline but also to the curriculum as a whole, a faculty with strong interests in and a worthwhile knowledge of some disciplines not their own, so that they, and not only the students, were able to formulate and pursue rival and alternative answers to the questions that give point and purpose to such a curriculum. . . .

“What then about specialized training for research?” someone will ask. Ours, they may say, is a knowledge-based economy and we cannot do without specialized researchers. The type of curriculum that I am proposing may teach students to ask questions in a disciplined way, something that is certainly a valuable preliminary to instruction in genuine research techniques, but it does not begin to supply the apprenticeship that researchers at the cutting edge need. Indeed it does not. It is liberal education, not job training. But the lesson is to get rid of the confusions generated by our predecessors’ admiration for the German research university and to supply both a liberal education in the arts and sciences and, for those who aspire to it, a professional, specialized training in research in the natural or the human sciences. The curriculum I am proposing, including theology, could perhaps be taught in three well-structured and strenuous years. A fourth year would thereby become available for research or professional training. We do not have to sacrifice training in research in order to provide our students with a liberal education, just as we do not have to fragment and deform so much of our students’ education, as we do now.


Posted by Rick Garnett on October 24, 2006 at 12:37 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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