Sunday, October 18, 2009

Liberty and Learning

Hey, I finally read a book that wasn't a read aloud to the children! Ever since returning from Alaska in early September, I've mostly been just browsing through books already on the shelves. On Friday, though, we finished our K12 work, the house was quiet with some sick youngsters and the older boys and Kevin gone to Sean's football game. So I picked up a book called Liberty and Learning which I chose from Paperback Swap this summer purely on the basis of the title.

It turned out to be about Hillsdale College. I knew the name because we get the Imprimis flyer in our mail, but I didn't really know anything about it. Turns out to have quite an admirable history; it was founded in 1844 and from the very beginning did not exclude anyone based on gender or race. In fact, in 1957, coached by Muddy Waters, the college was invited to the Tangerine Bowl *on condition that it leave its black players at home*. It refused. When other colleges were accepting government funding in return for various restrictions and oversight, Hillsdale did not.

So the book was about the history of American education as it related to the educational history of this particular college, in particular about "liberal education". A shortish book but interesting in the issues it raised.

The trend in modern univerrsities has been towards the enormous research-oriented conglomeration, firmly tied to the government by funding and by thousands of pages of regulation. This tendency is not generally questioned, or so it would seem, just as the behemoth of centralized public education funded by the taxpayer and regulated by people far away from the locality has not been questioned. As Larry Arnn, the author of the book, points out, the Founders thought that education like family life was too vitally important to be tied up with the government.

Interesting -- and a nice tie-in with the Life of Frederick Douglass that Kieron is to read this year. Frederick Douglass came and spoke at the college and said, according to Mr Arnn, and you can find it on this site too:

“All I ask is, give him (the Negro) a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone . … If you see him going into a workshop, just let him alone — your interference is doing him a positive injury....“Everybody has asked the question, … ‘What shall we do with the Negro?’ I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us!””
I guess the theme of the book is that this insistence applies to education and family too: "Do nothing with us!"


  1. I have slowed way down in my personal reading too. I'm reading Green Dolphin St and it is a thick book and has a kind of dream like quality to it. So instead of rushing through it I'm taking my time. Reading with the teens and read louds to the younger kids is taking up most of my reading time, but I guess there is a season for everything.

  2. One of Cindy's regular commenters and contributers to the book discussions, Dana, attended Hillsdale. She also happens to be blogging about Hillsdale lately. Here's the address:

    I think it's a very interesting school, and I've been reading Imprimis for years.

    And on a completely unrelated and pretty much irrelevant note, there's a pop up for a game that keeps appearing over your recent posts widget (to the right). But I think it only appears when I go there from Google Reader. Who knows why it's there, but for what it's worth, it's there.

  3. Oh, I see that's Dana -- I read her other blog Principled Discovery. Thanks for the new link, Laura.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!