John Henry Newman on Education

image of john henry newman

Meditations on education borrowed from Owen Chadwick’s book Newman (which is a brief biographical sketch of John Henry Newman):

What a university (and, by extension, I’ll translate that to mean a college) is not:

  • A college is not a research institute. The primary purpose of a school is education. Advancing one’s subject matter is fine as long as it’s done as part of the educational purpose of the school.
  • A college is not a board of examiners certifying that students have obtained a certain amount of information. Chadwick paraphrasing Newman: “A university must be a community, or offer the chance of community—friendship between teacher and teacher, teacher and taught, and taught and taught.”
  • A college is not a place for passing on information. A college’s purpose is to develop minds. Of course, information is necessary for developing judgment & on to developing minds, but information transmittal is not the main purpose. A school should teach students to stand above their information, not be pressed under the weight of it.

In short, the goal of a college should be to enlarge students’ minds.

What does “enlarging students’ minds” mean? Again, borrowing from Chadwick’s wording, it means students should learn: how to use knowledge; how to judge knowledge with criticism & yet understanding; how to bring order into information; how to perceive through the evidence something more important behind the evidence; how to move from the particular towards general ideas.

(See: Owen Chadwick, Newman [Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1983] pp. 53-55. An updated version of this book, with a 2010 copyright, can be found here.)

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