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Newman is Liberal Education

In "The Idea of a University" Newman advocates that Liberal Education is the "business of a University." By Liberal Education Newman means which is not servile, not physical or mechanical in nature. To him liberal education is that education which produces nothing tangible or profitable but which is invaluable in a sense for it maintains its ground for ages because of its self-sufficiency and independent value. It is an education which does not have market value and is quite different from instruction. Newman in his approach is fundamentally and principally against the Utilitarian view thar education must have a pragmatic value.

Newman distinguishes between 'good' and 'useful' education. He says that the term 'useful' is a watchword or keyword for the Utilitarian.  Newman gives a philosophical and epistemological analysis of good and useful. He points out the subtle difference between good and useful and states that 'the useful is not always good, the good is always useful.' Good is not only good but reproductive of good and good is always prolific. Good is like a touchstone and everything is made perfect, beautiful, admirable and noble by its touch. Liberal education is good in the sense that it is reproductive of good and prolific and refuses to be useful' in the low, mechanical and mercantile sense. Liberal education is useful because it diffuses good; again it is a blessing. a gift, an invaluable treasure for the possessor first and then through him to the world or  environment around him.

The function of liberal education is mental rather than physical. It is not characterised by physical instruction, it is the exercise of inner faculty - the cultivation of the intellect. It is the exercise of reason, of mind. Again the target of Liberal Education' is not to produce geniuses or heroes like Shakespeare, Newton, Napoleon, Washington or Raphael rather it aims at an education for the common mass. It aims at the development of the common intellect of the common herd. Liberal Education has a very simple, ordinary but great vision in view. In Newman's words "But a university training is the great ordinary means to as great but ordinary end; it aims at raising the intellect tone of society, at cultivating the public mind, at purifying the national taste, at supplying true principles to popular enthusiasm and fixed aims to popular aspiration, at giving enlargement and sobriety to the ideas of the age, at facilitating the exercise of political power, and refining the intercourse of private life."

Newman is definitely underlining the importance of moral and ethical education in this essay. By liberal education he actually means the ethical sense or education or the moral vision that a. person needs in his private, social, national and intellectual life. Newman points out that the function of the university education is to produce a group of people who are literate and cultured. The task of university education is to produce gentlemen who are full of common sense and who could be master of any situation.

In professing his ideas Newman is completely anti-utilitarian in The Idea of a University. Newman is argumentative and constantly supports his argument by citing examples. He is putting forward a theory of an age, which is better known as an age of advancement and discovery - an age characterised by the craze of going forward and the exploration of new and newer fields of knowledge. In the Victorian times, curious and various knowledge has been pursued to extend the frontiers of knowledge and it had been pursued for its won sake in opposition to the authority of religion to expand the boundaries of knowledge and investigations.

But Newman's ideas are not wholly acceptable. Newman's argument can be accepted only to some extent. His theory that liberal education is independent of results is not tenable in the modem perspective. Education for the sake of education is a renaissance concept, and in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, literature, arts, language and philosophy were taught to educate and expand the minds and hearts of the students. Universities were the centres of excellence, and arts and theology were pursued for their own sake. But today the concept of education has changed. Mere useless knowledge does not serve the purpose of the students. Knowledge must aim at the twin objectives of practical usefulness and humanistic development. University today is not simply a seat of gentleman's education. Sit must combine excellence and relevance. So, Newman's ideas, however high-flown and erudite they may be, are not wholly relevant to the modern age, which is basically an age of specialisation.


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