The Vision of Education

A Closer Look at Curriculum Reform

An excerpt from a recent academic paper concerning the history and effect of curriculum on The Vision of Education

Léon Frédéric — All Things Die, But All Will Be Resurrected


This paper is meant to be read and appreciated as philosophic prose. The expression is one of pontificated, individual ontology and assertion, which thoughtfully deviates from traditional academic formalism to communicate expressive ideals. The language itself mirrors the importance and gravity of it’s content and aims to do justice to such significant historical debates regarding the purpose, meaning and timelessness of The Vision of Education.

The Vision of Education: A Closer Look at Curriculum Reform

The vision of education is so fundamentally rooted in the curriculum of its pedagogue that the very basis of human action, human understanding, and human prosperity remain inseparably linked from its ontological domain. What we teach is who we are and the very foundation of all normative behavior, ideology and governance in general. The grand dialectic in which humanity proposes what ought to be instructed and how best to disseminate such knowledge is the utmost foundational disputation for all human inquiry. Whether for utility or unity, pragmatism or piety, virtue, wisdom or truth, the journey to discover the fullness which all life needs continues fervently ad infinitum. Where the essence of rationality and logic cease to reconcile in the pursuit of some such higher designation of character, beauty and virtue, the very nature of our existence and experience is determined though our designation of education and has stood to be the primal source of progress and enlightenment in all times and for all men.

This “Vision of Education” has continually changed, evolving as both a product of innate intuition and environmental influence to develop a historically conscious view of the nature and purpose of indoctrination. Surely this question comes to bear the very nature of ideas and the subsequent relativism invoked in principle doctrines of visionaries and laymen alike. What ought we to know and why? Surely if our existence is merely for the generation of capitalistic or utilitarian gain, the necessity of such esoteric principles of pedagogy need not apply. But certainly man finds meaning in the brilliance and importance of the discipline and possibility of his own mind. The beauty and enormity of conscious experience in which abstraction, imagination, irrationality, art, process, question, contemplation, reflection, reason, and truth play a role. Which if any should we attempt to profess? If one ultimately leads to greater prosperity, both for humanity and for the individual, it necessitates a moral imperative to attempt to pursue that course.

Historically curriculum has been both a product of the environment and of individual ontological volition with such dogmatic doctrines as Christianity, Utilitarianism and Capitalistic schools of thought. But the most instrumental subscription to education was one for the mere pursuance of such experience; the emotional comprehension of the nature of ones’ existence and experience as a way to appreciate the essence and eternality of one’s own mind. Education, as the celebration of human potential and furtherance of ours observations, hypothesis, analysis, and solutions are a window into the natural world of phenomena and the mysterious existence of metaphysics along with the immateriality of the soul. The qualia of existence and the principles of assured assertion gave rise to the humanist movement and the ontology categorized as liberal education. From the 1st century BCE when the Vedas and Upanishad’s professed a holiness and oneness with the earth and stars, to Pythagoras and the divinity of number, creating the primary construction of arithmetic, geometry, math, science and logic which served as the fundamental building blocks for human language, physics and material description. Math became the most important instrument in the furnishing of the adolescent mind as number became the abstract formal representation of the physical world. The beauty of math, the symmetry of math, the infinity and meaning a priori, as discovered by man, became the first universal language. From math we received music, the second most prominent historical category for enlightenment as the universal structures relating man to nature, transcending the boundaries of corporeal understanding to the realm of the truly sublime. These principles of divinity, perfection and unity laid the foundations for the structure of liberal education; the attempt to reconcile existence with something beyond the nature of utility, pragmatism, practicality, and reason.

The evolution and abuse of curricular systems of indoctrination only spread as the uniformity and unity devolved into uncertainty, entropy and misinterpretation. The rise of theology and the Christian religion adapted from Medieval Greek and Egyptian philosophy became the primary mode of instruction after the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D. For the next 1500 years, religion would play a profound role in the formation of higher education imposing strict curricular commandments fundamentally altering the nature of the individual as well as the nature of society in it’s wake. In Lynn Thorndike’s “University Records in The Middle Ages,” overt depictions of the abuse of curriculum were commonplace in the control and outcomes of higher education. Egregious rules and mandates “Where neither the books of Aristotle nor their commentaries are to be read at Paris in public or secret, as this we forbid under penalty of excommunication” (Thorndike 27) laid the foundations for control in curricular thought. Strict ecclesiastical prelates mandated a curriculum where students “Shall not learn secular sciences, not even the arts which are called liberal… But shall read only theological works whether they be youths or others” (Thorndike 30). These orders were held in strict regard where the punishment of heresy and often excommunication, torture or even death was insinuated with domineering influence. “Let no one, therefore, infringe this page of our ordinance or go rashly against it. But should anyone presume to attempt this, let him know that he will incur the wrath of the whole university” [and God] (Thorndike 66).

By controlling the populous through educational reform, society suffered through more that 500 years (the appropriately named Dark Ages) primarily for the predilection of curriculum as a modicum of suppression and dogmatization.

Both the letter and the spirit of Greek ideals and humanistic transcendence were lost, only to be reborn in the early 17th century period through classicism, romanticism and enlightenment. With the burgeoning accessibility and acceptance of higher education in the enlightenment, the goal of differentiation and diversity reestablished the calling for a humanistic approach to curriculum. In a goal to define why one ought to attend such an institution, certain criteria for the furnishing and discipline of the mind elevated the pragmatic, theological and utilitarian ends of previous institutions. Attempting to return to the Grecian ideal of wisdom, such primary institutions in the West such as Harvard, Yale, Amherst, and others, began to articulate a vision of education that allowed both maximal freedom for the individual and a foundation of knowledge known as liberal (or liberating) in attempt to free the mind and expand one’s conscious experience of themselves and of the world. Two famous reports surfaced in the middle beginning of the 18th century, which contemplated the role of the university and its purpose, vision and instruction.

The first capitulation of pragmatic liberal education resurfaced in the 1826 “Amherst Report,” followed only two years later by the seminal and colloquially named “Yale Report” of 1828. Both papers originated as suggestions from the faculty on the ideal education, instruction and curricula, requisite for the designation of “higher education” in the hopes of illuminating a brand and awareness among the elite institutions, reinventing and eternally canonizing the ethos of the university. The Amherst Report of 1826, originally titled, “Suggestions of Two Faculties,” realized that “One fact, we take it, is becoming more and more obvious every day. The American public is not satisfied with the present course of education in our higher seminaries” (The Amherst Report 5). In an attempt to reform and reaffirm the very notion of higher education, the faculties at Amherst prescribed a new view of coexistence with the classics and the modern utility. One in which the university would not lose its initial character but reaffirm and reassure its position “in the rapid march of improvement” (The Amherst Report 6).

Society and education collided and the growing populism demanded an altogether separate notion of education for men and women, not destined for the learned profession, and merely enrolling for utilitarian and pragmatic ends. This decision and the decision of implementation at Amherst, and other universities like it, would change the history of humanity forever. Questions of empiricism and value arose regarding the classic curriculum and the notion of utility combatted the sanctified study of ancient materials. “The majority will be apt to contend, that in an age of universal improvement, and in a young, free, and prosperous country like ours, it is absurd to cling tenaciously to the prescriptive forms of other centuries” (The Amherst Report 7). The commoditization and commercialization of education developed a new ideology representative of goods and services reacting to the nature and will of the market place.

Trusting the populous, Amherst began to mold their Vision of Education to suit the growing economic demands and environmental influences of a capitalist society. Displacing the importance of humanism and liberal education in service of the market, the college began creating an unprecedented historical change in instruction, purpose and outcome for its students and the nation. The shift toward utilitarianism, academic freedom, and capitalism has profoundly changed our outlook on the meaning of life and existence. The existentialist claim that our sole purpose is to “meet every call for instruction with the cry of innovation” has codified the industrial revolution, replacing the theological dogmatism with the values of economic prosperity and the depressing notion that material contribution is of signature importance to the expression and value to a human life (The Amherst Report 7). “Let our colleges promptly lead on in the mighty march of improvement and all will be well” notes the report of two faculties, yet now more than 170 years later, the struggle for identity, purpose, meaning and so called work-life balance has never been more pronounced (The Amherst Report 8).

The Amherst Report did not deny the quality and importance of liberal education, but encouraged only the scientific, pragmatic dissemination of the modern approach to its instruction. The furniture of the mind and mental culture became secondary and the systematizing and equalizing of new knowledge, with ancient scholarship, became the primary concern. Latin, as a secondary language, was replaced with French and Spanish, and philosophy was followed by mechanics. A primary curriculum was open to more academic freedom and choice. The focus shifted from global pluralism to nationalistic monotheism where Greek and Roman oratory were replaced by civil and political law, “embracing a careful study of the American constitutions” and the history of one’s own country (The Amherst Report 15). Reverberations of American universities quickly spread and the ideology that modern material was as valuable and as important as the classics instated a new nationalism and pragmatic curricula fit for “the more useful arts and trades, to the cultivation of the soil and domestic economy” (The Amherst Report 15). Pragmatism took hold as “surely it would be no disadvantage to any professional man in after life, to have learned how to drive a nail, or put on a lock, or use a plane or a saw, when he was a student in college” (The Amherst Report 20).

But these very notions, in an effort to appeal to the masses and the common man, diluted the foundation and vision of education, one that appealed to the growing will of customers to increase the enrollment and endowment of the institution. With less emphasis on the history of ideas and education as the fundamental enrichment and enlightenment of ones own experience and understanding, pedagogy became secondary to the intrusion of the market.

The Yale Report, surfacing only two years later, issued a powerful response. In a canonical defense of liberal education, Yale concerned themselves with similar issues of curriculum and vision amongst the transition of a burgeoning educated and working elite. Yale faculty argued passionately that “the two great points to be gained in intellectual culture are the discipline and the furniture of the mind; expanding its powers, and storing it with knowledge” far beyond the importance and rationale of common demand and utility (The Yale Report 1). The only way in Yale’s opinion to construct a civilized and learned state was “to give men different branches of literature and science, as to form in the student a proper balance of character” (The Yale Report 2). From the pure multiplicity of knowledge man becomes whole, and from the study and nature of ideas can a foundation be established with infinite possibility. Some of the benefits of this holistically humanist and liberal approach are as follows: “From the pure mathematics, he learns the art of demonstrative reasoning. In attending to the physical sciences, he becomes familiar with facts, with the process of induction, and the varieties of probable evidence. In ancient literature, he finds some of the most finished models of taste. By English reading, he learns the powers of the language in which he is to speak and write. By logic and mental philosophy, he is taught the art of thinking; by rhetoric and oratory, the art of speaking. By frequent exercise on written composition, he acquires copiousness and accuracy of expression. By extemporaneous discussion, he becomes prompt, and fluent, and animated. It is a point of high importance, that eloquence and solid learning should go together; that he who has accumulated the richest treasures of thought, should possess the highest powers of speech” (The Yale Report 2). It is this doctrine that formed the basis of liberal education and the foundation of specified curriculum for the formation of a whole and unified student and society. Yale understood the modern notion of innovation but passionately decreed, “Their attention ought not to be solely or mainly directed to the latest discoveries. They have first to learn the principles which have been in a course of investigation, through the successive ages; and have now become simplified and settled” (The Yale Report 3).

It is easy to replace Latin with English, but the history of ideas themselves is so fundamentally important that one must recognize the alliteration of English is but a footnote to all of Latin, Greek and Roman work in much the same way that all of philosophy “consists of a series of footnotes to Plato” (Whitehead 39). There must be room for the classics and the sustenance and elevation of education to “produce a proper symmetry and balance of character” was Yale’s primary concern (The Yale Report 2). Yale similarly recognized it was not solely the job of the institution to instruct but the job of the individual as well. “The scholar must form himself, by his own exertions. The advantages furnished by a residence at a college, can do little more than stimulate and aid his personal efforts” (The Yale Report 2). This again is a recapitulation of ancient thought and a subconscious reengineering of the Greek ideal as Socrates famously said, “I can not teach anyone anything, I can only make them think.”

It was the combination of ancient and modern ideals that illustrated that “the bodily frame is brought to its highest perfection, not by one simple and uniform motion, but by a variety of exercises; so the mental faculties are expanded, and invigorated, and adapted to each other, by familiarity with different departments of science” (The Yale Report 2). These two modes of education profoundly changed the landscape of higher learning. Yale’s curricular assertions established its importance and resounding purpose as one elevated from the traditional public domain. These distinctions romanticized higher education as a place where an individual could become whole, worthy, wise, distinguished and enlightened. Soon every elite university attempted to follow suit. Continuing the expansion some 40 years later, Harvard began to address similar assertions of curricular reform. In President Charles William Eliot’s 1869 Inaugural Address, he too made assertions as to the vision of education and its purpose in defining the role of the university experience. Eliot echoed that idea, saying “The worthy fruit of academic culture is an open mind, trained to careful thinking, instructed in the methods of philosophic investigation, acquainted in a general way with the accumulated thought of past generations, and penetrated with humility,” where each student has both a careful examination of history and an openness and appreciation of modernity and present thought (Eliot 8). Harvard was to be a university where “A mind must work to grow” (Eliot 11) and “to think this impossible is to despair of mankind; for unless a general acquaintance with many branches of knowledge, good as far as it goes, be attainable by great numbers of men, there can be no such thing as an intelligent public opinion; and in the modern world the intelligence of public opinion is the one condition of social progress” (Eliot 6–7).

This sentiment mirrored with today’s indoctrination of capitalist utility is both a product of the industrial revolution and of the focus of more minimal institutions that were not conscious of the dire effect and influence of the educational system. It is not difficult to see why men of Harvard, Yale and the educational elites continued to garner the success and support of society at large as their curriculum emphasized the humanistic experience of education one beyond the pure physicality of cementing a skill or trade. Curriculum in its most essential reformation inculcates consequences for the populous and the functioning of society. Whether or not these ideals have been upheld is a topic for another inquiry, but their effect of the university’s construction of the vision of education, its purpose and meaning in society can be undisputed. This analysis, though supplemented by example remains a philosophic illumination of the leverage of educational and curricular choice. The very idea that society has placed value on Harvard and Yale’s Vision of Education certainly speaks to the essence of what an individual ought to desire from the process of pedagogic instruction. Whether in theory, or execution, that either institution has ultimately succeeded remains secondary, for the very attempt to elevate the educational ideal is the primary advancement to be understood. Throughout time such revolutions continue to occur in the realm of curricula and each incumbent cycle leads to new processes and ideological outcomes of its individuals and society. As the construction of the ideal vision of education continues, now more than ever do we need to re-evaluate its mission. Education and curricula define our human experience and a choice inherently must be made. The construction of curricula and principles to define the future of pedagogy begin with our understanding of the importance of this conclusion. Both the future of society and the fate of the mind remain in our schools.

Works Cited

Eliot, Charles W. “A Turning Point in Higher Education: The Inaugural Address of Charles William Eliot as President of Harvard College, October 19, 1869.” A Turning Point in Higher Education. Massachusetts, Cambridge. 1 Nov. 2016. Web.

Report of The Faculty. Rep. New Haven: Yale, 1828. The Yale Report, 1828, Excerpts. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.

The Substance of Two Reports of The Faculty. Rep. Amherst: Ahmerst College, 1827. Print.

Thorndike, Lynn. University Records and Life in the Middle Ages. New York: Octagon, 1971. 26+. Print.

Whitehead, Alfred North. Process and Reality, an Essay in Cosmology; Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of Edinburgh during the Session 1927–28. New York: Macmillan, 1929. Print.

Hi, I’m Colin! A 21-year-old philosopher, artist and aspiring entrepreneur currently studying philosophy, physics and neuroscience at NYU.

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My philosophy and interests lie within the history of ideas, the reification of philosophy through art, metaphysics, ethics, phenomenology and the nature of consciousness, governance and the social contract, post-capitalist economics, utopia, Greek, Roman and medieval literature, theoretical physics, and human potential. I am primarily concerned with the nature of education as a path toward enlightenment, the philosophy of pedagogy and perennial erudition.