Idealism and Liberal Education
Publication Year: 1996
Published by: University of Michigan Press
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This is a book about liberal education and its goals. It reflects my experience as president of the University of Iowa, from 1982 to 1987, and as president of Dartmouth College, since 1987. It rests on my belief that liberal education is the surest instrument yet devised for developing those civilizing qualities of mind and character that enable men and women to lead...
1. Life and Letters
Becoming an Educator
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When I was a schoolboy, we were required to read Macaulay's magisterial Essay on Johnson. Published in 1856, it remains an ideal model of expository prose and one of the best short assessments of the life and work of the great eighteenth-century critic and lexicographer. The final homework assignment was to identify the sentence in Macaulay's essay that best...
The Joys of Collecting Books
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I have been fortunate, from a book-collecting point of view, in that I have moved twice in recent years, first from Philadelphia to Iowa City, and then from Iowa City to Hanover. On both occasions, the exigencies of moving caused me to rid my library of those books I no longer especially wanted. Identifying books as candidates for triage is not a congenial enterprise, but the fact is that some titles, with the passage...
A Dukedom Large Enough
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As one who loves and collects books, I was honored several years ago to be asked to speak at a university that had just added the two-millionth volume to its library. It had selected the Second Folio edition of William Shakespeare to mark this special occasion. Shakespeare remains our greatest maker of books, our supreme exemplar of poetic achievement, our...
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Our greatest judges—from John Marshall to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and Louis Dembitz Brandeis—have always understood the beguiling allure of the piquant aphorism and what Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo, in his elegant essay on "Law and Literature," called "the mnemonic power of alliteration and antithesis" and "the terseness and tang of the proverb...
The Stillness and the Courage
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What is the value of a liberal education? That question brings to mind Benjamin Franklin's famous remark when he was asked, as the Constitutional Convention came to a close, what was the use of the new document. "What is the use," he responded, "of a newborn child?"...
2. Content and Character in Liberal Education
The Teaching of Values in a Liberal Education
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Higher education inevitably presents the most troubling and perplexing questions concerning the teaching of values. In approaching those questions, one cannot escape the aptness of Judge Learned Hand's definition of the spirit of liberty: "the spirit which is not too sure that it is right." He was fond of recalling Cromwell's statement, "I beseech ye in the bowels of...
The Promise of Equality
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In Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court held that racial segregation in the public schools is unconstitutional. The Court's unequivocal affirmation of the equal rights of all citizens was, as Richard Kluger writes in Simple Justice, "nothing short of a reconsecration of...
The Organization of Knowledge
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In an age of abundant questions and scant resources, no university any longer pretends to teach all knowledge. Few even claim to provide an overview of the major divisions of knowledge. But in order to function at all, a university must have some system for organizing...
Science and Liberal Learning
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Colleges committed to liberal education have a special responsibility to think about the meaning of science for the citizens of a democratic society. The achievements of science and technology offer fruitful opportunities and daunting dilemmas for every nation on earth. But particularly they pose challenges for nations, like ours, that govern themselves by...
Liberal Education and the Legal Profession
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As a law professor and law school dean turned university president, I have come to believe that there is, or should be, a tight and sinewy bond between the academic enterprise I have taken on and the one that I have left behind, for liberal education and legal education grow out of the same tradition of humane learning. Indeed, legal education can be no stronger...
The Lessons of the Law
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As the speaker at a law school commencement several years ago, I told the graduating students that exactly thirty years earlier I had stood in a similar place as they did then and for a similar purpose, and that I believed then, as I had believed on that earlier day, that Justice Holmes was majestically right in stating that a person can "live greatly...
The Professor's Life
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Someone has defined a university president as a person who shuttles between God and Mammon. In the course of my own efforts to preach the hallowed ideals of the university while seeking the financial means of bringing them into reality, I am continually struck by the contrast between what those outside the university believe that professors do and what they...
3. Models for Shaping a Life
Public Selves, Private Selves
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The college years are, of course, years of personal development, years when students prepare to "burst the cocoon" and "get into the open." They are years in which students confront the question of how to shape a life that is satisfying and meaningful. As each of us of an older generation can attest, such satisfaction and meaning do not come easily. But they are...
The Power of Idealism
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This is the first generation to enter college after the collapse of Communism and the end of the cold war. My generation, by contrast, attended college when the cold war was most menacing, when the Soviet Union threatened the interests of the United States around the world, and when the domestic search for subversion produced the political cancer of...
The Value of Intellectuals
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The peoples of the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and the Baltic nations have recently wrought a renaissance in the ancient values of political democracy and individual liberty. They have done so with stunning swiftness and an irresistible sense of purpose. What are the lessons that graduates of a liberal arts college can...
Insiders and Outsiders
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The story of Jewish leadership in American society, and specifically of a half-century of Jewish leadership on the Supreme Court of the United States, plays out the title of a poem by Archibald MacLeish: "America Is Promises." From the very beginning, America has indeed been promises, often cast in the form of bold assertions, starting with the statement in the...
Thurgood Marshall: Man of Character
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In 1742, Henry Fielding began Joseph Andrews, one of the first great English novels, with the sentence, "It is a trite but true observation that examples work more forcibly on the mind than precepts: and if this be just in what is odious and blamable, it is more strongly so in what is amiable and praiseworthy." In calling attention to the power...
The Capacity of Imagination
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As the novel opens, the businessman Thomas Gradgrind is haranguing the local schoolmaster on the need for a pedagogical revolution to prepare students for the new age that was then at hand. "Now, what I want is Facts," he insists. "Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts." In Gradgrind's narrow curricular design, there is little room for ideas, for...
Originals and Copies
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My own college years were during the Eisenhower administration—when television was still in black and white and the uniform of business was the gray flannel suit. A prominent book of the period was a collection of introspective essays by college students, entitled The Unsilent Generation—the self-portrait of a generation that was sharply criticized for its...
Those Who Are Truly Great
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In confronting that momentous question—a question often avoided because its weight makes us uncomfortable—we can take valuable guidance from the lives and accomplishments of people who inspire us—people who, in the words of the English poet Stephen Spender, are "truly great . . . those who in their lives...
Ordinary Backgrounds, Extraordinary Men
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There was little indication in the outward circumstances of their early lives that either would achieve greatness. Yet each helped to shape the postwar world and guide the United States and the United Nations into an era of vast and unprecedented responsibilities. Ralph Bunche and Harry Truman each had an unwavering sense of who he was and a rare ability to...
Essayists and Solitude
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Much of our lives will be spent in solitary activities—thinking, reading, writing, studying, or waiting. Nevertheless, as effective as many colleges may be at nurturing admirable qualities, they are not as good as they ought to be at preparing individuals to confront the quiet and the solitude—the resounding silence—that the human condition inevitably...
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Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 1996