Mon, 28 Apr 2008
Why we go to school
In 1861, one William Cory, a Master at Eton, made the following observation:
"You are not engaged so much in acquiring knowledge as in making mental efforts under criticism. A certian amount of knowledge you can indeed with average faculties acquire so as to retain; nor need you regret the hours that you have spent on much that is forgotten, for the shadow of lost knowledge at least protects you from many illusions. But you go to a great school, not for knowledge so much as for arts and habits; for the habit of attention, for the art of expression, for the art of assuming at a moment's notice a new intellectual posture, for the art of entering quickly into another person's thoughts, for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the habit of working out what is possible in a given time, for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage and mental soberness. Above all, you go to a great school for self-knowledge."
This was actually a test question that I was asked to write about in a class on International Law at George Washington University. It was a terrific class that I still remember today and kudos to the instructor, David A. Peterson, for encouraging us to think in new ways.