Recalling Education

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In this searching and well-written critique, a distinguished professor of philosophy argues that the purpose of educationenabling students to achieve intellectual autonomyhas been forgotten. Hugh Mercer Curtler challenges prevailing myths about education; clarifies the distinction between education and indoctrination; explains the significance of a proper understanding of education in a democracy; and offers recommendations to reverse current trends.
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Editorial Reviews

Arguing that since the time of John Dewey there has been little probing discussion of the nature and purpose of higher education, Curtler (philosophy, Southwest State U., Minnesota) echoes many of the concerns raised in Allan Bloom's . He argues that the purpose of liberal arts education has been lost and in a series of previously published (but revised) essays argues against expanding the canon to include marginalized voices, suggests that athletes on scholarship should just be paid for their efforts and booted out of classes, and contends that liberal arts education can and should be expanded to all of the public colleges. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781882926558
  • Publisher: ISI Books
  • Publication date: 5/1/2001
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 300
  • Product dimensions: 5.88 (w) x 8.54 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Read an Excerpt

What is the purpose of education? Though many now recognize the need for reform in our universities, few have taken the trouble to engage this crucial question. And it is even more rare to find an administrator or dean who can articulate a persuasive answer that withstands scrutiny.

In this searching and accessible critique, Hugh Mercer Curtler argues that the purpose of educationenabling students to achieve intellectual autonomy, and thus true freedomhas been forgotten. Furthermore, he argues that any renewal of American civil society depends on the renewal of American education, for only when our students learn to become truly autonomous can men and women act as free and responsible citizens.

In developing this argument, Curtler debunks several myths concerning the purpose of education. These include the myth that education is simply job training, that it consists in a particular quantity of schooling or information bequeathed, that its main purpose lies in preparing us for a multicultural world, and that it should be regarded as simply another industry and left to the whims of the marketplace. Nor is education properly understood as having the bestowal of moral virtue as one of its ends; this is, rather, the proper job of families and religious institutions. True education takes place when students learn to subject their passions to their intellects and their entire lives to the spirit of critical inquiry.

Furthermore, contrary to the nihilistic tenets of some variants of postmodernism, Curtler stoutly maintains that education is not indoctrination under another name. He demonstrates this persuasively in his reflections on Shelley’s Frankenstein, Goethe’s Faust, and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. He argues that certain books, and certain ideas, really are superior and more enduring than others, a fact too often obscured by ideological prejudices. Eschewing grandiose schemes and bombastic rhetoric, Curtler articulates practical proposals to effect true reform: closer faculty-student advising relationships, the introduction of interdisciplinary course clusters, the reduction of hours devoted to the major, the elimination of the “education” major, and many other specific suggestions.

Recalling Education is a succinct and compelling explanation of education’s fundamental purpose, and as such provides a valuable service in clearing away the fog that envelops discussions of university reform. It is a work that will be of interest to anyone concerned with the link between a proper education and authentic freedom.

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Table of Contents

I The Purpose of Higher Education 1
II Debunking Some Myths 21
III Education or Indoctrination? 41
IV How Not to Read a Book 73
V Citizenship in a World of Difference 95
VI The Liberal Arts and the Public College 117
VII Can Virtue Be Taught? 135
VIII Dissenting Opinion 149
IX Where Do We Go from Here? 161
App. A 183
App. B 185
App. C 187
Notes 189
Bibliography 199
Index 205
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2008

    A Powerful Call for Change

    Curtler's Recalling Education provides an effective and engaging defense of the liberal arts in higher education and denounces the spread of relativism. While the book does become slightly repetetive at times, it provides a thorough and convincing analysis of what it means to be educated. Many people recognize that there is a crisis in American education, but few can identify and explain the source of the problems as effectively as Curtler does in this book. The title and cover may give the appearance of a dry and uninteresting discussion of academic tradition, but the ideas are expressed in interesting and entertaining ways. Recalling Education does not have to be a book that is only read when the teacher requires it, but can be a pleasant and enlightening read for anyone interested in the crisis facing American education.

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  • Posted December 11, 2008

    Recalling Education

    I read this book for my college freshman English class. The emphasis in the class was about becoming an educated person, and reading this book led to many deep discussions. Curtler begins by adressing what education is and is not, specifying that it is not simply knowledge, how-to, or a paper stating that an individual went to a university for x-amount of years. He also talks about how a person is never truly free until he is well-educated and informed. That part of the book opened my mind to all the possibilities of freedom and understanding what it actually is. I would highly recommend this for any college freshman or person pursuing an education. I plan on keeping my copy. It is a little difficult to read though because it is in a very formal language. Overall, excellent philosophic ideas explained and discussed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2008

    A refreshing look at the problems todays education.

    I always thought that an education was more than reading a book then filling in the blanks on a school exam. I never knew how to explain it or why I thought as I did, but Curtler has put my mind to words. He examines education and asks a thought provoking question, "What is the purpose of an education?" Its a question that every citizen should ask, because as Curlter argues, an education should breed resposible citizens. <BR/><BR/>Throughout the book he illustrates this theme with various examples; one which I love is about the ability to buy the right car. He says the more a prospective car buyer researches, the greater his ability to choose will be. That ability to choose creates freedom, not freedom from consequence, but freedom to do what is inherently right. This example, amongst many, make me love the book and appreciate Curtler as an author--he does an amazing job of informing and convincing his audience.<BR/><BR/>His writing conventions (especially word choice) may make it a little difficult to read, but the read is well worth it and thoroughly enjoyable.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    Recalling Education - Brilliant reflection on modern education.

    In Recalling Education, Hugh Curtler masterfully presents what he feels to be true education. In this piece, he defines and argues what he calls "positive freedom", which is the ability to make the best choice based on a broad, comprehensive collection of information. Curtler states,¿ Freedom increases as the number of choices increases¿ (1). Reading his book helped me consider what it means to be truly educated. Curtler believes that an education in the liberal arts should take precedence over secular education, which is limited in its scope of study. The topics of this book range from what a general education should entail to a detailed discussion of being a lifetime student.<BR/> Furthermore, Hugh Curtler argues that a positively educated society makes choices that are unselfish, but rather, benefit the whole. He states, ¿Healthy states differ from unhealthy states in that the former concern themselves with the common good while the latter splinter into multiple concerns about particular goods¿usually centered around the specific demands of particular citizens¿ (110). Considering the vast array of needs of groups and individuals makes me ask myself, "What is the common good?¿ Curtler attempts to answer this question in this novel and gives well thought-out examples and arguments for his stance. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to all.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2008

    Recalling Education

    At first, I didn't want to read this book for three reasons: 1) It was the first book for me to read in college and I didn't think any reading material in college would be interesting. 2) The title isn't exactly captivating. 3) I didn't actually want to read a book about education, for my education. But, you, or I, can't judge a book by it's cover. As I began reading the book I began to see some of Curtler's views. They were very thought provoking and caused me to decide if I agreed or disagreed. One section talks about myths including "education is job training" and "education is a marketplace" to name a few. This is where it started getting interesting as I realized there are many misconceptions about education in this world. He doesn't just talk about literal education and schooling, but he talks what it means to be an educated person, the theme of my English 150H class. Through his writing, I was able to understand what I personally think it means to be an educated person. Through his writing, I decided that being an educated person doesn't just mean you received a diploma. It means knowing how to learn and being interested in learning. It means being capable and free to make educated decisions. To me, some of Curtler's chapters seemed off topic and random. I also felt like most of the book was aimed towards teachers, but he does a good job of tying it all together at the end and making it universal. He makes a point by saying that being educated is the one principal and goal we can all share regardless of race or gender. Although there were some controversial points in the book, this, being the focus of the book, is something I agree with and overall I found it rather inspiring.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2008

    Recalling Our Education

    As the title suggests, Recalling Education is written with the intent of calling back to our attention the fundamentals of education. In his book, Hugh Mercer Curtler discusses the shortcomings of the current educational institution, as well as myths and misconceptions about the nature and worth of an education. <BR/>The necessity of an education and the critical role that it plays in our lives is an important part of Cutler¿s argument. He talks about education as a means of achieving positive freedom, defined as the ability to make informed choices. His view of education as something that is meant to endure, even after the information that we have learned has been forgotten, is something that really intrigued me. <BR/>Curtler very effectively establishes his rationale through thoughtful logic and great examples. He has successfully drawn my attention to those things that should be the focus of my education. Education is about learning how to learn. I would highly recommend this book to anyone that has ever pondered the question, ¿What does it mean to be an educated person?¿ My perspective on the purpose and worth of an education has been greatly enhanced by reading this book. Recalling Education is an exceptional, important read.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    The Book Every Student (and Citizen) in America Should Read.

    In a nation that seems to widely view education as a means to an end ¿ finish high school to go to college, to get a job, to meet friends, etc. ¿ Hugh Mercer Curtler's "Recalling Education" investigates this trend, pointing out how we're all missing the point of higher education. He argues that citizens can only possess ¿positive freedom¿ ¿ the ability to make good choices ¿ when they understand the reasons for these decisions, which ultimately stem from good character. In America, we have an abundance of natural ¿negative freedom,¿ or innumerable choices, but not necessarily the tools to decipher what the good ones are. <BR/><BR/> Curtler argues that one of the only ways to combat this negative freedom is to ¿recall¿ the educational trends of antiquity. He discusses how education in the days of Aristotle was for the sole purpose of achieving virtue and wisdom, instead of facts, paychecks, or an item on a checklist. When the aims of education are to teach reason and motivate good character, we can become free: ¿He is free if he does what is right because it is right and he knows it to be right¿ (104). This freedom will teach citizens of American how to make choices for the greatest advantage, i.e. choosing what will benefit them also as well as others. <BR/><BR/> Hugh Mercer Curtler poses a deep, crucial argument for our times ¿ something that could have been convoluted and hoity-toity ¿ via straightforward analogies and step-by-step arguments. This book entirely overhauled my understanding of being in college as well as incited my mind to think of ways schools can supplant old trends for new ones that will create responsible citizens who are truly free.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2008


    In this book, Curtler examines what it means to be an "educated person". He defines being educated as having positive freedom--the ability to make right decisions based on knowledge. He refutes many legitimate myths about school and learning; myths that I have wondered about in the past. Although sometimes hard to understand at first, his ideas are thought-provoking and motivating, as well as quite persuasive. By the end of the book, the reader will understand how to become more educated, and have the desire (and motivation) to do so.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2008

    Basics of Education

    In our day, there are many institutions around the world defining what education is or isn't. These institutions will vary in what they find important considering the wide variety of cultures. However, Curtler discusses the basics of education and the guidelines for being educated that will cut across the cultural divisions.<BR/>First, the concept of "Positive Freedom" is introduced, being defined as taking a multiplicity of choices and narrowing them down to the most important two or three choices. This is education. Changing facts and information into something that an individual can use requires skill that can only be attained through being properly educated in that process. Being overwhelmed with an abundance of choices is a result of not being properly trained to find the most important aspects in choices.<BR/>The book is basically summarized with the following quote included in Chapter seven, "Education is what remains after the information that has been taught has been forgotten." Robert Hutchins (135). Education is being able to think for oneself and draw logical conclusions based on information provided. It will take effort, refining of skills, and increased understanding to become educated.<BR/>At this point in my life, I believe that Curtler's points expressed in this book are accurate. Being able to understand processes of learning will help an individual to succeed far more than regurgitation of facts. Facts only have one dimension where they can be used whereas learning processes can be applied to anything.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2008

    Thought provoking

    Recalling Education is a thought-provoking book. It advocates that the purpose of an education is to empower the intellect to make reasonable choices. It supports this claim with a logical, step-by-step argument, which incorporates philosophy and practical application. Through this argument it defends the Western canon from the ¿political correctness¿ of multiculturalism, it condemns professors that indoctrinate instead of allow their students to reason, and it revokes the idea of education as merely ¿job-training.¿ I didn¿t agree with everything it said, but most of it was convincingly logical. I am a freshman in college, and this book helped me decide that a main objective for being here is to learn how to learn. I recommend this book to anyone who¿s involved in the educational system, including teachers, parents, students, and administrators: Recalling Education helps clear the murky waters of the educational system to see a clear goal for which to aim.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2008

    Interesting and Informational. Not Entertaining...

    In Recalling Education, Hugh Mercer Curtler brings up issues in the education system that I was unaware even existed. The information in this book is useful for anyone. Although the book was written for the purpose of education in schooling, the principles are applicable in everyone's daily life. (I am referring to his thoughts about positive and negative freedom.) Teachers and potential teachers should read this book. It give helpful knowledge on how you can assist your students in receiving the best education possible, and helping them become educated people. Becoming educated is complex and we need to do a lot more than just read and memorize. If you are interested in becoming an "educated person" then this book is definitely worth your time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2008

    Education Slumbers

    ¿Where there is no vision, the people perish.¿ Curtler clarifies this proverb by boldly opening the burial casket of education where nails of false tradition and lack of vision have been countersunk into the frame. As Curtler removes each mythical nail, such as ¿education is job training¿ and ¿education is schooling¿, the blind 'including myself' are able to see traditional myths that are currently being taught and endorsed in the educational system today. Curtler clearly illustrates how these myths are taking away from the true meaning of education, and not furthering the initial and most important cause: positive freedom. Therefore, because there is a loss of vision, the people 'you & me' perish. As the corpse of education is exposed, be prepared to think in a higher state. A new light and insight will shine forth and you will understand, after examining Curtler¿s claims, that this lifeless body isn¿t dead, but only contained, and is merely sleeping. It¿s time for you and I to use our positive freedom and wake it up! Let¿s recall our education. Enjoy the read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2008

    Something to think about

    Recalling Education is a book written about the current educational system. The author discusses what it means to become a truly educated person, which was something that really got me thinking about the education that I am trying to obtain. He discusses how there are many different aspects of our current educational system that are not helping students become truely educated people. I agreed with many of the points that he gave. A couple of them were aspects that I have witnessed first hand as a college student. The book caused me to look at the type of education that I wanted to be getting. Overall, I think this book is a good read for students looking start college and want to gain the best education possible.

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