I find it a bit embarrassing to offer these points. A long portion of my life has been spent in a dedication to obtaining the virtues of education. I have found many things, but few of them at the educational institutions, so-called, which inhabit our land.
The purpose of education is to produce an adult with internally founded values, with the skill of going about knowing whatever is indicated; going about understanding whatever is indicated; going about doing whatever is indicated. (English is particularly weak and flabby regarding the power of its verbs. Several of the ancient languages could express these ideas in terse and muscular little phrases.)
Things that I missed in my education – especially in high school – were the reading and appreciating of the thoughts of Aristotle, and a reading knowledge of Latin, so that Livy could be understood.
That sounds incredibly fusty and old-fashioned. It is not. Those things are not taught in high school. The reason given is usually a wave of the hand and a vague discussion of why they are not needed.
Actually, they vanish because our educational system can no longer deliver them. It simply is too weak and bureaucratic to pursue these things. It lumps into the category of “humanities” those elements which are difficult to apply in a multiple-choice test, and ignores them.
Aristotle and Livy and Aquinas are not hard – especially not for the average inquiring mind in high school, if it has not been paralyzed already. They are rejected because they cannot be machine-processed.
Our current ethic states that if anything cannot be mass-produced, it is an item for dilettantes and effetes. To review the reading lists of many of America’s former leaders, one would be surprised.
Lincoln’s reading list has been collected and published by Robert Bray, as part of the study of American history. Bray rates the certainty of Lincoln’s actually having read the documents, based on his own citation or testimony. The listed items are those almost certain that he had a working familiarity with – from authors’ names A-D.
- Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice
- Cervantes, Miguel de, Don Quixote, 
- Bacon, Francis, Essays, 
- Bunyan, John, Pilgrim’s Progress, 
- Butler, Joseph, The Analogy of Religion Natural and Revealed to the Constitution and Course of Nature, 
- Blackstone, William, Commentaries, 
- Bancroft, George, History of the U.S., 
- Andrews, E. A. & Stoddard S., A Grammar of the Latin Language, 
- Darwin, Charles, The Voyage of the Beagle, 
- Balzac, Honoré de, Novels, [1842–48]
- Benton, Thomas Hart, Speeches, 
- Darwin, Charles, The Origin of Species Monograph, 
- Beecher, Henry Ward, Editorials, 
The list is not extraordinarily dense; but Lincoln read a number of crucially important books, and especially speeches, throughout his life. Some of these would certainly lie on the “liberal arts” side of the reading list.
Blackstone, Bacon and Butler would have added an entirely new world to the span of Lincoln’s thoughts. That was self-education in the 1800’s. What is general education like now?
I hate to use the word “proletarian,” as it is a spinoff of the intellectual rubbish that is European Socialism. One of the greatest catastrophes is that this foreign Marxist crop blighted our politics over the last hundred years or so. However, the word fits here.
John Taylor Gatto offers in his many works, including Weapons of Mass Instruction, A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling, (also see ref.) The principles of proletarian education were constructed in the 1870’s to train skilled factory and assembly-line workers. The studies were generally funded by the Carnegie Foundation, and other ‘nonprofits’ seeking distance from the taint of industrial control. As America became skilled in obedient piecework, it became necessary to shift the approach from efficient and obedient producers, to efficient and obedient consumers, to make up for the surge in manufacturing ability in the 1940’s during WWII. We have lived for some twenty years of being instinctive consumers, with no longer preserving our ability to produce. That we have handed off to the Chinese hordes.
A thing that exists as a creation, not a natural thing, which has certain attributes – the continued existence of such a thing is likely due to perception, consent and affirmation. Our educational system sucks, and has gotten worse over fifty years or so. It has been noticed; it has been commented upon; it has not improved. That is because it cannot be changed, or will not be changed. We are obediently skilled at consuming. We are not skilled in manufacture. Neither are we skilled in thinking. This is ominous.