Dr Larry Arnn, President, Hillsdale College, USA
As I wrote in my last despatch, at Hillsdale College, we are working to become involved with education in India. We are excited by this prospect because we love to teach, because India is important, and because there are profound commonalities between our countries.
As I wrote last time, India and the United States have a kinship in at least two important respects: our practice of representative government, and the common roots of our languages. The importance of this second factor cannot be overestimated. Human capability to speak is the outcome of human reasoning capability, the unique capacity distinguishing us from all other earthly creatures. The western classics teach us that this gift is synonymous with speech. If you reflect for a minute, you will discern that you are thinking in words. And if you can think in words, you can utter and therefore share them. This draws us closer together than any other species.
This is why education is important to humanity. We can do so much more with our minds than other creatures. It is true that we have bodies, like all animals, and it is true that these bodies have needs. We must feed them, rest them, grow them. We must reproduce them, which means we must care for the young. All of this is common across the animal kingdom. What is different is that homo sapiens have choices about how we do these things. This gives us a larger responsibility than other creatures. Our gift of reason is constantly interacting with our physical needs. This makes education of young humans much more important than other creatures. It takes much longer. It achieves much more.
What then is education? The term comes from a Latin word meaning “to lead forth”. This raises the question, which way is forth?
Aristotle writes that if one can identify a good horse, one ought to be able to tell who is a good human being. Horses are strong and fast. Racehorses in particular are beautiful when they perform. They are made to run. What are we made to do? We all have examples of excellent human beings whom we look up to. We admire people for their physical traits. When they are strong, fast, or physically beautiful, they are attractive to us. They represent a kind of perfection to which we all aspire.
But in humans, physical traits never operate separately from our moral and mental traits. We can ruin our bodies by bad habits. We can build them by good habits, and we can choose what type of habits we will develop. The way “forth” for human beings is to grow towards excellence in body and soul. Good education cultivates this excellence through development of character and intellect.
In the next letter, I will discuss how good schools develop character. In the following one, I will dwell on how they develop the intellect. These methods are the same in America and India, and for that matter everywhere else.