(This post is part of the series on postsecondary education.)
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This post is a counterpart to one from a couple of days ago entitled "The provider's education." In that post, I listed elements from the necessary content of education that I judged to be directly and practically relevant to the act of providing for oneself and for one's family.
But of course, providing for a family is only part of the human vocation. It is also our vocation to acquire a correct philosophy of persons and of truth. We are enjoined to "attain to reality itself as knowable," to acquire wisdom that "gently attracts...to a quest and love for what is true and good," to "humanize he discoveries made by man," to "assimilate the wisdom of the nations," to "contemplate and appreciate the divine plan."
So education (whether parents inculcate it or whether the individual seeks it on his own initiative) must not consist merely of training in tasks. Skills and knowledge that serve truth and goodness have value for their own sake, or rather because they serve truth and goodness, and not just for their economic value. Necessary education has a humanist element, not just a provider element.
(Let me pause here to acknowledge again that being a provider is part of being humanist, and being humanist is part of being a provider. The two do not separate neatly, if only because one thing that providers necessarily provide is others' education, including the humanist and cultural content; and if the provider does not receive that humanist and cultural content, the provider cannot provide it.)
So here is a carefully chosen subset of the items from my list that I deem most relevant to developing a perspective centered on human values. At the end of the list I will discuss conclusions.
Note: I deliberately left catechetics out of this list. I am putting it into a third category which I will cover separately.
Elements of humanities education that THE FAMILY is expected to inculcate and teach, or to delegate to trusted others
The family teaches that the material and instinctual dimensions are subordinate to interior and spiritual ones.
The family must teach developing adolescents proper forms of human culture.
The family must train children to discover that they have a rich and complex psychology.
The family must train children to discover that they are endowed with a particular personality with its own strengths and weaknesses.
The family installs esteem for all authentic human values in interpersonal and social relationships.
The family must nurse an understanding of the whole human person in which the values of intellect, will, conscience, and fraternity are preeminent.
The family must take great care about civic and political formation of youth so that all citizens can play their part in the life of the political community.
The family must train the children to express calm and objective judgments which will guide them in the choice or rejection of media that is available.
The family must begin the formation of the child's conscience, awakening the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law.
Elements of the humanities that THE INDIVIDUAL is expected to develop in himself
Each person must cultivate the skills of interiority: reflection, self-examination, introspection.
Each person must form his conscience to judge particular choices, approving good and denouncing evil.
An individual forms his character based on the esteem for authentic values instilled by his parents.
An individual learns control and right use of one's inclinations based on the esteem for authentic human values instilled by the parents.
Each man has the duty to retain an understanding of the whole human person in which the values of intellect, will, conscience, and fraternity are preeminent.
A Christian is encouraged to strive to understand the ways of thinking and judging of other men of their time.
A layperson is encouraged to receive a sufficient formation in theology.
A Christian must recognize the legitimacy of different opinions with regard to temporal solutions.
A person must respect citizens who, even as a group, defend their points of view by honest methods.
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College education is not the only way to provide this kind of education, but university-level courses in the humanities are certainly one way that some of these skills and philosophies could be acquired and developed.
"Striving to understand the ways of thinking and judging of [people other than Christians]" is a particular strength of universities of our age, for example.
On the other hand, it might be difficult to obtain a "sufficient formation in theology" solely through university courses at U. S. public universities -- though not impossible -- and even at many private religious universities.
Furthermore, when selecting a university course of study, one would do well to be cautious about ways that the individuals charged with teaching, instructor selection, and curriculum development might actively work against these humanist purposes.
Some teachers wish to present evil as good, and good as evil; if they are skilled presenters, they endanger the appropriate development of conscience, which is a lifelong development. Some teachers disparage certain opinions as illegitimate, when the difference of opinion belongs to the realm of legitimate disagreement. Without getting into what constitutes an "authentic human value," let's postulate that some teachers may promote inauthentic or inhuman values. Without getting into what constitutes "proper forms of human culture," let's postulate that some teachers may teach improper forms. Some teachers will promote disrespect for certain citizens. Some teachers may promote a poor and simple view of human psychology. Some teachers may disparage intellect, or deny free will and conscience, or mock fraternity.
It is not necessarily bad to be exposed to the reality that many people have a rotten understanding of human values. It is good to consider incorrect points of view in order to learn to engage with them.
But it is no small matter to put oneself voluntarily under the authority of such people.
And it is no small risk to do so before developing a firm foundation in the skills of recognizing good for good and evil for evil.
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There is also the matter of retaining perspective in one's whole course of study. Simply because there are fewer humanities courses in a practical course of study such as business, engineering, or the hard sciences, there are less opportunities to encounter teachers who promote improper culture, disparage intellect, and so forth. The teachers are too busy teaching practical skills to say very much at all about values, culture, and ethics, either good or bad.
But that does not mean that such a practical education can be completely empty of human values. Professionals need to learn the ethics of their profession, and integrate those ethics into their esteem for human values. They need to remain centered in the notion of their work as a means of service of the common good, and for that they need a proper understanding of what is good. They need to retain a perspective which values human beings as persons and not as objects to be used.
When selecting a practical course of study, then, one should prefer a course that includes ethical practice among the required classes and that allows for elective courses that support and develop authentic human values.
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Finally, let's observe that this humanist education does not require a university-level education at all. Most of these values can be inculcated by parents in the family setting, or in a classically liberal high school program. An adult can develop them in himself in conversation with other people, perhaps through civic organizations or voluntary associations; by identifying mentors in his profession who can assist him in authentic development; and through judicious choice of cultural experiences and personal reading.