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Wayne C. Booth – Necessary Knowledge

September 21, 2014

“If knowledge is needed to enable men to function as units in society, and if the health of society is taken as the purpose of their existence, then there is nothing wrong in training the ants to fill their niches; it would be wrong not to. ‘Education is our first line of defense – make it strong,’ so reads the title of the first chapter of Admiral Rickover’s book, Education and Freedom (New York: Dutton, 1959). ‘We must upgrade our schools’ in order to ‘guarantee the future prosperity and freedom of the Republic.’ You can tell whether the ant-analogy is dominating a man’s thinking by a simple test of how he orders his ends and means. In Admiral Rickover’s statement, the schools must be upgraded in order to guarantee future prosperity, that is, we improve education for the sake of some presumed social good.

I seldom find anyone putting it the other way round: we must guarantee prosperity so that we can improve the schools, and the reason we want to improve the schools is that we want to insure the development of certain kinds of persons, both as teachers and as students. …

At least from our point of view, ants are expendable, or to put it another way, their society is more beautiful, more interesting, more admirable than they are. And I would want to argue that too many people think of human beings in the same way when they think of educating them.”

(from ‘Is There Any Knowledge That a Man Must Have?’, in The Knowledge Most Worth Having [1967])

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