Home » (Criticisms and Critiques) » A Criticism. Of Education.

A Criticism. Of Education.

Why would a Holocaust survivor ever endorse “education” as the  guarantee against human atrocity? The claim that more education could have saved lives, and will save lives—this claim coming from a Holocaust survivor—suggests a total ignorance about historical evidence. Maybe such a man believes that “surviving” history exempts him from the burden of reviewing history. (As if we are not all, in a sense, survivors of history!) But no, the evidence is clear. Education did not stop the manipulation of language and image that produced the Final Solution. Education did not guard German intellectuals from accepting, either actively or passively, the rhetoric of the Third Reich. Education did not overcome National Socialism. On the contrary, education—that gross abstraction usually mentioned with naïve warmness—education gave National Socialism its vision.

How sad to see a Holocaust survivor recommending a human institution as the guarantee against human atrocity. How sad. How sad. How blind.

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5 thoughts on “A Criticism. Of Education.

    • Studying history and seeing monuments are useful activities, not salvific ones. While there is certainly a benefit, one with this kind of “cultural education” is still no farther away from committing atrocities than a country bumpkin is. The student of history becomes aware of more of the world without necessarily becoming more aware of oneself in the world. This latter self-knowing, which history cannot teach, would be a much better guard than cultural-historical knowledge if only because self-knowing makes us more cautious about acting on any suggestion. Yet the institutions of education have no structures in place to produce self-knowing. Anyway, to reiterate: students of history are well prepared for their own benefit, yet have no promise of becoming conscientious and sympathetic citizens.

      Elie Wiesel’s position is that education will help to stop atrocities because indifference toward them cannot survive in the face of cultural-historical knowledge. To this I say that any institutional education is inadequate as an antidote to indifference because indifference comes from a poison that is quite unlike ignorance.

      All of this is related to another belief I have: “getting knowledge” and “receiving an education” cannot overcome sin, and in some cases these may even amplify it.

  1. “institutional education” = oxymoron

    *Schooling*, not education, was the foundation of Prussian/German military success and made the vision of National Socialism palatable to millions. Anyway, education, or historical study for that matter, is not some monolithic thing that you can point to and say “that thing is not the answer.” Those activities are so variegated, personal/subjective, and dynamic that such a critique is essentially meaningless.

    In terms of historical study being a guard against repeating mistakes and travesties: the maxim really means *understanding* history establishes this guard, and understanding includes becoming more aware of oneself in the world. Anecdotally, I feel more self aware after studying history. I agree that historical study is not “salvific,” but what is?

    • Labeling institutional education as an oxymoron does not brush away its use in common speech. When Americans speak of education, they are speaking of institutions. When Elie Wiesel speaks of education before a crowd of university students, he is speaking of institutions. No idiolectic preference will undo this.

      You are, in a sense, correct to say that education and history are not things at which we can point and say, “This is not the answer.” This fits in well with my point in the post above: education is a gross abstraction, and at such an inexact abstraction we cannot point and say, “This is an answer.” Now, the critique gains its meaning in the fact that Elie Wiesel and others are still blindly pointing to education, which is nothing in particular.

      Understanding history, still, is useful only for using history. Historical knowledge or understanding have no inherent decision about historical ends, so the student of history—the one who understands it—may wield history in whatever way he sees fit.

      As for the salvific, only a person can be a savior.

  2. I’m not familiar with Elie Wiesel’s speech, so I’m not sure what kind of education he’s thinking of. My point was that there are kinds of historical study (and specific forms of education) that can help to safeguard against genocide. I disagree that “the student of history may wield history in whatever way he sees fit. Again speaking from my own experience, historical study has changed my perspective in unintentional ways – I do not learn history and then decide what to do with it – it moves me. I agree with you that it is necessary to become aware of oneself in the world, but I believe historical study to be an integral part of that, not opposed or separate from it.

    Of course my “idiolectic preference” will not undo the fact that many people refer to what happens in schools as “education,” but I am not going to abandon calling things by their proper names because others are improperly naming. My point here was that it was not “education” (for my purposes here I’ll broadly define education as a self-reflective, uninhibited and free investigation) that “gave National Socialism its vision” but rather *schooling*. If EW is calling for *schooling* as an antidote to jingoism, naziism, etc., then he’s wrong (and insane), but I don’t suspect he is.

    Finally, I don’t understand what you mean “only a person can be a savior.” This opens up a can of newts (and hardcore metaphysics, philosophy, and epistemology) we need’t let loose, but your statement is incoherent in my world because I don’t believe in discreet “persons.” You seem to be saying that only *a person,* divorced from the forces and materials that make them up (such as historical study) can be salvific, which is a fairy tale…

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