UIHistories Project: A History of the University of Illinois by Kalev Leetaru
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Repository: UIHistories Project: Board of Trustees Minutes - 1878 [PAGE 201]

Caption: Board of Trustees Minutes - 1878
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201 is the largest and most generous view that has yet found expression in the old world. I t was reserved for America to add a new and transforming element. In consonance with that recognition of the equality of human rights and privileges, which is the chief corner stone of our political institutions, the demand at last finds clear and full expression, that the education of a nation shall be made liberal. The crown of liberal culture is no longer the birthright of the few ; it is set within the reach of all. W h a t is a liberal education? Aristotle first used the term which we thus translate, and by it he attempted to designate an education fit for a freeman. He might have justly included an education that should give freedom to its possessor, that should liberate him from the narrowness, and prejudice, and isolation—the slavery of an uneducated mind. Something, at least, of this meaning has always been retained, and to-day the conception of a liberal education that would be accepted by the largest number, would be found to include the education of man as man, rather than that which equips him for a particular post of duty; the education that concerns itself with the broad sub-stratum of general knowledge, rather than the special applications of knowledge to some isolated field; the education that aspires to a symmetrical and balanced culture of all human faculties, rather than that which selects one set of faculties for training, and leaves the rest to accident or atrophy; the education that imbues the mind with a generous sympathy for every department of knowledge, and that recognizes the contributions of each department as necessary to the perfect whole, rather than that which transforms its possessors into narrow and conceited specialists, mutually ignorant and intolerant of each other's, and of all other's work and claims. Can we, indeed, improve upon Milton's ideal of a liberal education: " I call, therefore, a complete and generous education, that which fits a man to perform justly, skillfully and magnanimously, all the offices, both private and public, of peace and war." To serve such purposes, a liberal education must always be abreast of its time, must take in the best and amplest knowledge yet attained; and thus we see that it cannot be the same, yesterday, to-day, and forever. Some permanent characteristics it does indeed possess; but its actual contents vary for each generation. Its range of teaching widens with the process of the suns; its scheme requires readjustment from age to age. The true curriculum for one age is not sure to be the best for the next—indeed, we may almost say, is sure not to be the best. Three hundred years ago the liberal education of Europe consisted in what seems to us a fruitless threshing of the barren chaff of the scholastic philosophy and logic. T h e languages of ancient Greece and Rome, with their splendid literatures, with their models of composition in every department of letters, even yet unrivaled, were reclaimed from the oblivion of a thousand years, and in spite of conservative opposition, they gained a place for themselves in the scheme of liberal culture. They disciplined and inspired the mind of western Europe in a way unknown before, and their place in the work of education was widened until it covered almost all the field. Literature, and especially the literatures of two great nations that had been dead for more than a millenium, became synonymous with liberal culture. But in our own day another readjustment, or rather a reconstruction, of the whole scheme of liberal education has been rendered altogether