Back when Dave first mentioned that I interviewed authors, he asked that, if I ran across any books that might be of particular resonace to Ephs, I would write a post about it. Well, a book I was scheduled to do for the Yale Press Podcast certainly counts. Anthony Kronman, class of ’68, Sterling Professor of Law and former Dean of the Yale Law School has written Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life, in which he looks at the crisis in Humanities in American higher education and examines the forces that have led humanities professors to no longer discuss metaphysical questions.
It was only a few years ago that I learned about the historical background to the liberal arts, how they were contrasted with the “arts utiles” (job related skills) and how they were seen as the education fit for someone who is “free”. I’ve often thought about what that term means in the 21st century and whether a Williams education leads towards that freedom. I think it is quite a vital topic. Should schools such as Williams make a more formal attempt to discuss the meaning of life with their students? If so, should the Western canon have a privleged position in these discussions? (I think it is fair to say that Professor Kronman thinks it should) Is there really a crisis at all? Were the classes of 1808 or 1908 really more prepared to address the meaning of life than the class of 2008 is today?
Anyway, Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life is definitely a book that can start a discussion. I thought the book was a little uneven, but I think the topic is worthy of debate. And hey, any book with a back jacked blurb from one Francis Oakely is worth taking a glance at.