Scholarship and Excellence
FEBRUARY 01, 1957 by RALPH BRADFORD
Mr. Bradford is a well-known writer and business organization official.
Edward Wiggam, "appears to be the thing that enables a man to get along without an education. Education," he adds, "appears to be the thing that enables a man to get along without the use of his intelligence."
Like many clever epigrams, that one is only partly true. Intelligence certainly helps a man to get along without an education; but to be educated does not necessarily mean that he forsakes the use of his intelligence — imposing evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. Possibly Wiggam had been so unfortunate as to come into contact with a disproportionate number of educated fools, whom he did not suffer gladly!
Considerable confusion exists about the term "education." What does it mean to be educated? It is elementary and perhaps trite, but still educational, to remember that the word educate derives from the Latin e and ducere, meaning literally to lead out or away from. The educational process, then, is not one of cramming the memory with dates, facts, figures, and literary allusions. The secret of getting educated is to use all such things as a means of leading one out from one’s self. The practical measure of an education is not how many things a man knows, but what use he makes of the knowledge he has acquired.
Another term that often misleads — or that is often used misleadingly — is "scholarship." A scholar, of course, is "a learned person; one versed in any branch, or in many branches, of knowledge; a person of thorough literary or scientific attainment; a savant." But even in Webster’s, which I have just quoted, nothing is said about intelligence being a necessary part of scholarship.
Perhaps, on the side of realism, that is just as well; for a disconcerting number of scholars seem to honor intelligence more in the breach than the observance. A man may be held in almost breathless awe because of his scholarship, yet perform acts or utter sentiments which, to my meager intelligence, appear nonsensical. He may be profoundly versed in the mathematics of physical science, yet still allow his name to be associated with movements so clearly inimical to freedom that an intelligent sophomore would see through their sham. A woman may be educated to the level of supposed scholarship; she may in fact be in demand as a lecturer or as a contributor to magazines and newspapers, and yet be the direct or oblique supporter of ideas and activities whose phony benevolence would at once be seen through by that same discerning undergraduate.
Professors of Socialism
Much of the dangerous nonsense of the past twenty-five years has come from the realm of scholarship. It was an amiable professor — a real one — who peddled the idea of a managed currency to political leaders who were themselves well educated. It was a scholarly play-right who helped nurse to maturity the clumsy monster of Fabian socialism which has now all but extinguished the flame of
Arrayed against them, it should be added in fairness, were many equally reputable scholars. It is certainly not the purpose of these paragraphs to indict scholarship for all the world’s follies, but to make the point that scholarship as such is not always and necessarily the hallmark of wisdom, or even of intelligence.
The Common Sense of Freedom
From all of the above it could be argued, I suppose, by those who are addicted to that brand of forensics, that my real definition of an unintelligent person would be one who does not agree with me. Such an attitude, of course, would be the depth of unintelligence on my part. There are other criteria.
For instance, surely it is now agreed by all people of intelligence that freedom cannot be preserved by constantly extending the controls exercised by government over individual citizens. Yet the demands for more and more government are nearly always supported by an imposing array of scholars. Surely it is now generally recognized by people of ordinary "horse sense" that a nation’s currency cannot be managed without a corresponding management of the lives of its people. Yet there is much scholarship behind the idea of juggling the value of our money. Scholarship that was held in high repute supported the proposal that was seriously advanced a few years ago to legislate that government officials should raise or lower taxes, not in response to the financial needs of the government, but for the purpose of providing either "easy" or "tight" money, in accordance with the fluctuations of the economy — all without seeming to reflect for a moment upon the superhuman wisdom that would be required in the officials who were to do the juggling! Again, it requires no staggering intelligence, surely, to understand that a national debt which is not reduced will lead, as it has already begun to do, to a devalued currency, which in turn will mean serious loss if not bankruptcy for those who in good faith have worked and saved. Yet there is weighty scholarship behind the theory of a permanently unbalanced budget. One of the most scholarly men of my acquaintance took me roundly to task a few years ago in a spirited correspondence, because I had been insisting that a nation, the same as an individual, could not continue to spend more than it takes in without eventually going bankrupt. Was he intelligent — or am I stupid?
What, then, is scholarship? As the term is currently used, it may be no more than what Webster’s said of it — learning; proficiency in one or more branches of knowledge. That it should be accompanied always by intelligence is highly desirable and generally taken for granted; but alas, it ain’t necessarily so! Oliver Wendell Holmes, the elder, complained many years ago that "the world’s great men have not commonly been great scholars, nor its great scholars great men." And long before Holmes became the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, forthright old William Penn was grumbling because there were "so many senseless scholars in the world."
Wisdom to Understand
So what? Is this screed a plea for ignorance, or a mere invective against scholarship? Heaven forbid! The night of ignorance is always around us, even as the eternal darkness of space encompasses planets that would be sunk in obscurity but for the brave light of their mothering suns. Life, health, happiness, progress, every step upward and forward, is a struggle for more light: for knowledge gleaned from man’s accumulated and recorded experience. Scholarship is a part of man’s evolution.
But the true end of all learning, of all scholarship, is not merely to know, but to understand. The proper aim of every student, whether youth or graybeard, is not just to be learned, but to be wise. And wisdom does not come from scholarship as such, but from the application of intelligence to the knowledge obtained, be it much or little, utilitarian or recondite. One of the wisest men I ever knew was indifferently educated academically; but by the experiences of life and the exercise of native intelligence he had truly been "led out" from himself. Perhaps that, after all, is the secret of what is needed — the escape from the trammeling curtains of Self which, like the fear of the Lord, is the beginning of wisdom.
This little homily, I realize full well, is subject to a more or less standard form of attack, like all suggestions that are in opposition to a current trend — namely: What’s your alternative? Don’t just be negative! For heaven’s sake, be for something! All right: This piece is for something. Here is its positive program — in two points:
Point One: All scholars should make an effort to be intelligent.
Point Two: All others are warned not to be hypnotized by the mere label of scholarship.
The Liberal Arts
As President A. Whitney Griswold of Yale defines the phrase, "the liberal arts" means the arts appropriate to a free man. These arts in ancient times were seven: grammar, rhetoric, logic, music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. Their purpose was not to fill minds with factual knowledge. Their purpose was to train the mind.
"This is the purpose of the liberal arts," says Dr. Griswold. "It is not to turn out mechanics and businessmen for the workaday trades that we all follow when we graduate from college and start to earn a living. It is to season the timber before it is built into the ship; to prepare the apprentice before he becomes apprenticed; to give the engineer a humane conception of the society that he is supposed to be serving with his technological devices and practices; to give the lawyer historical and philosophical breadth; to give all of these enlightenment, taste, virtue, and imagination."
THOMAS DREIER, in The Vagabond, November 1956