Appeared in Spring 1992, Vol. XVIII, No. 1
In what is perhaps the most important and profound treatment of the history of Western education written in the twentieth century, written thirty years ago, Christopher Dawson argued that at the heart of education in the West always has lain a deep tension between two goals, enculturation and the quest for truth or wisdom, what the Greeks meant by “philosophy.” Dawson, who had considerable sociological as well as historical training and had studied and written about many non-Western cultures, knew that in one sense education in its root meaning, as a way of forming particularly the young, virtually was enculturation. For him, for instance, China was “an exceptionally clear example of the way in which the survival of a civilization is dependent on the continuity of its educational tradition.”1 By such observation Dawson meant not just that in China, as anywhere, part of being brought up was learning the values and world view of one’s parents and neighbors, but that in what he called the advanced cultures specific institutions developed for creating and passing on “a common world of thought with common moral and intellectual values and a common inheritance of knowledge.”2 Perhaps any attempt at forming others implies some degree of self-consciousness, but Dawson’s claim was that the development of educational institutions expressed self-consciousness about the identity of one’s culture, its common memory and past.
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