There has been so much talk about “free college education” during political campaigns that we’ve all become immune to the reality: there is no such thing as a “free” education.
Someone, somewhere, pays for the teachers, the classrooms, the books, the buildings, the desks and the knowledge. Not to mention janitors, administration, learning tools and a myriad of other costs that nobody takes into consideration.
So let’s begin with what the whole process is about. To wit: what is the point of an education?
Answer: “to get a good job.” If that really is your answer, you failed my little test at question 1.
Because the goal of an education is to produce the citizen.
What is a citizen? The citizen is a person, who, if it came down to it, could re-create his or her civilization.
Because if a person gets a great education, he/she is equipped to handle a job or career of his/her choosing. Their education has primed them for the world, has prepared them mentally to solve problems and, perhaps most importantly, make good choices that benefit themselves, their companies or their own lives, as well as the lives of people around them.
If a person is capable of re-creating a civilization, then having a successful career and a fulfilling life should be attainable as well.
The prototype for our “western civilization” begins with two cities: Athens and Jerusalem. Athens for its philosophical and scientific view of actuality. Jerusalem for its spiritual and scriptural views of the real world.
Both had heroic or “epic” phases. The Homeric poems of ancient Greece are sort of a scripture on prolonged ethical meditation. These ideals became the philosophies of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Jerusalem gave us the Hebrew narratives, whereby Jesus internalizes mosaic law (e.g., The Ten Commandments, among other things).
Socrates, the heroic philosopher, and Jesus, the ideal of heroic holiness, both represented new ideals in their time, and new ideals in their striking intensity.
In the first century of the Christian era, Athens and Jerusalem actually converged under the auspices of hellenistic thought, which can be found in the writings of Paul and John, whose gospel defined Jesus by using the Greek term for order: LOGOS.
It’s hard to believe in the dysfunctional world we live in today, but Athens and Jerusalem converged, despite great differences, because much of their philosophy overlapped. The ultimate terms presented by Plato and Socrates are not derived from reason. The God of Plato and Aristotle is a monotheistic one, though still the God of philosophers. (Socrates considered his rational universe dictated personal immortality.)
In the Hebrew epic, there are hints of a law prior to the law of revelation and derived from reason. Thus, when Abraham argues with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham appeals to a known principle of justice - which God also assumes.
So Athens is not purely a society based on reason, and Jerusalem is not purely divined by revelation. Both address the same question: why is there something rather than nothing?
Beginning with prehistoric figures in Homer and Genesis, Achilles and Abraham, a great debate takes place. Thucydides and Virgil sought order in history. St. Augustine tried to morph Paul and Platonism. The French philosopher Montaigne’s skepticism would never have been articulated without a prior assertion of cosmic order.
Shakespeare created a world and transcended Lear’s storm with that final calmed and sacramental tempest. Rousseau would not have proclaimed the goodness of man if Calvin had not said the opposite. Dante held all the contradictions together in a total structure, if but for a glorious moment. Kafka could not see beyond the edges of his own nightmare, but Dostoevsky found love just beyond the lowest point of sin. Those 18th century men of reason knew the worst, and gladly settled for the stability of a bourgeois republic.
Yes, I’m aware that by any intelligible standard the other great civilization was China. Granted. Yet it has no Athens/Jerusalem dynamic. It is static, the symbols being The Great Wall and The Forbidden City, as opposed to Odysseus and Columbus, Chartres and the Empire State Building, not to mention the love that moves the sun and other stars.
For when you encounter the real material that makes up our civilization, once known in universities as the “Liberal Arts,” then you are going someplace. You are on the way to becoming a citizen.
It takes time, effort, study and money to get there. Education is never free.