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It is hard to say what is most notable about this book published first in 1931: 1. Albert Jay Nock's incredible disquisition on the real meaning of education and its role in a free society. 2. That these lectures were given at a university as part of a prestigious Page-Barbour lecture series. 3. That they were delivered at a "public ivy" school: the University of Virginia. The It is hard to say what is most notable about this book published first in 1931: 1. Albert Jay Nock's incredible disquisition on the real meaning of education and its role in a free society. 2. That these lectures were given at a university as part of a prestigious Page-Barbour lecture series. 3. That they were delivered at a "public ivy" school: the University of Virginia. There is no way such a lecture series could appear on a campus of this sort today. For in these lectures, Nock goes to the heart of the matter of what is wrong with the structure of education in the United States: the policy, imposed by government, of universal admissions on the theory that everyone is equally educable. The book is made up of 14 lectures, each one building on the other. He begins with an understanding of what it means to be an educated person. He discusses the dissatisfaction of nearly everyone that US schools are not in fact turning out educated people. He turns to reform movements in education and provides a shocking round up of their history (keep in mind that this is 1931). He then spells out the difference between training and education and how Americans have completely overlooked the difference in the course of seeking economic and social uplift for everyone. "Our system is based upon the assumption, popularly regarded as implicit in the doctrine of equality, that everybody is educable. This has been taken without question from the beginning; it is taken without question now. The whole structure of our system, the entire arrangement of its mechanics, testifies to this. Even our truant laws testify to it, for they are constructed with exclusive reference to school-age, not to school-ability. "When we attempt to run this assumption back to the philosophical doctrine of equality, we cannot do it; it is not there, nothing like it is there. The philosophical doctrine of equality gives no more ground for the assumption that all men are educable than it does for the assumption that all men are six feet tall. We see at once, then, that it is not the philosophical doctrine of equality, but an utterly untenable popular perversion of it, that we find at the basis of our educational system." He goes further to attack the idea that literacy alone is capable of preserving freedom and civilization. He blasts the tendency to think that education is good so long as it encompasses the largest possible group ("no child left behind"). He says that in fact a good educational institution should have very few students. The range of radical thought here is nothing short of shocking, from his claim that very few should be in college to the point that vastly more people are tenured as professors than there should be (again, 1931). Three factors have changed since he wrote. First, the practice of universal education has expanded beyond a point which Nock himself could have imagined. Second, the classical ideal of education has become all but entirely unknown. Third, the economy has ever less use for the skills that the university teaches, so it has once again fallen back to private institutions to actually prepare people for a productive life. In this case, Nock is more relevant than ever before. But beware: only read this incredible book (which was shocking in 1931) if you are prepared to completely rethink the basis of modern education.


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It is hard to say what is most notable about this book published first in 1931: 1. Albert Jay Nock's incredible disquisition on the real meaning of education and its role in a free society. 2. That these lectures were given at a university as part of a prestigious Page-Barbour lecture series. 3. That they were delivered at a "public ivy" school: the University of Virginia. The It is hard to say what is most notable about this book published first in 1931: 1. Albert Jay Nock's incredible disquisition on the real meaning of education and its role in a free society. 2. That these lectures were given at a university as part of a prestigious Page-Barbour lecture series. 3. That they were delivered at a "public ivy" school: the University of Virginia. There is no way such a lecture series could appear on a campus of this sort today. For in these lectures, Nock goes to the heart of the matter of what is wrong with the structure of education in the United States: the policy, imposed by government, of universal admissions on the theory that everyone is equally educable. The book is made up of 14 lectures, each one building on the other. He begins with an understanding of what it means to be an educated person. He discusses the dissatisfaction of nearly everyone that US schools are not in fact turning out educated people. He turns to reform movements in education and provides a shocking round up of their history (keep in mind that this is 1931). He then spells out the difference between training and education and how Americans have completely overlooked the difference in the course of seeking economic and social uplift for everyone. "Our system is based upon the assumption, popularly regarded as implicit in the doctrine of equality, that everybody is educable. This has been taken without question from the beginning; it is taken without question now. The whole structure of our system, the entire arrangement of its mechanics, testifies to this. Even our truant laws testify to it, for they are constructed with exclusive reference to school-age, not to school-ability. "When we attempt to run this assumption back to the philosophical doctrine of equality, we cannot do it; it is not there, nothing like it is there. The philosophical doctrine of equality gives no more ground for the assumption that all men are educable than it does for the assumption that all men are six feet tall. We see at once, then, that it is not the philosophical doctrine of equality, but an utterly untenable popular perversion of it, that we find at the basis of our educational system." He goes further to attack the idea that literacy alone is capable of preserving freedom and civilization. He blasts the tendency to think that education is good so long as it encompasses the largest possible group ("no child left behind"). He says that in fact a good educational institution should have very few students. The range of radical thought here is nothing short of shocking, from his claim that very few should be in college to the point that vastly more people are tenured as professors than there should be (again, 1931). Three factors have changed since he wrote. First, the practice of universal education has expanded beyond a point which Nock himself could have imagined. Second, the classical ideal of education has become all but entirely unknown. Third, the economy has ever less use for the skills that the university teaches, so it has once again fallen back to private institutions to actually prepare people for a productive life. In this case, Nock is more relevant than ever before. But beware: only read this incredible book (which was shocking in 1931) if you are prepared to completely rethink the basis of modern education.

30 review for The Theory of Education in the United States

  1. 4 out of 5

    Vagabond of Letters, DLitt

    9/10 Slight demerit for author's anticapitalist sympathies, which do not materially impinge upon the thesis of the lectures.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ronald

    In this book (originally a series of lectures given at the University of Virginia in the early 1930's) Mr. Nock defines the meaning of "intelligent," "formative knowledge," and "educated," explains the Great Tradition and why it disappeared, describes the revolutionary changes that occurred in the U.S. education system at the close of the 19th century, explains the three incorrect theories that the current system is wholly based upon, and describes why he doesn't think America will ever return t In this book (originally a series of lectures given at the University of Virginia in the early 1930's) Mr. Nock defines the meaning of "intelligent," "formative knowledge," and "educated," explains the Great Tradition and why it disappeared, describes the revolutionary changes that occurred in the U.S. education system at the close of the 19th century, explains the three incorrect theories that the current system is wholly based upon, and describes why he doesn't think America will ever return to the Great Tradition and why that portends an eventual disaster. If you consider yourself "educated" then don't read this book. You will find that you are not. It is a factual, not a sentimental book. You will be forced to see things as they are, not as you wish they were.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Austin Hoffman

    Gold. We do not have a system of education in the United States. We have institutes of training. Bad theories of pseudo-egalitarianism, pseudo-democracy, and pseudo-education prevail. All we are left with is endless tinkering to refine the machine of pragmatism and training. "Mr. Lang said that the type of education offered in our new million-dollar high schools is about one-twentieth as valuable. as the kind given in the traditional little red schoolhouse of a generation ago." pg. 19 "Its interpr Gold. We do not have a system of education in the United States. We have institutes of training. Bad theories of pseudo-egalitarianism, pseudo-democracy, and pseudo-education prevail. All we are left with is endless tinkering to refine the machine of pragmatism and training. "Mr. Lang said that the type of education offered in our new million-dollar high schools is about one-twentieth as valuable. as the kind given in the traditional little red schoolhouse of a generation ago." pg. 19 "Its interpretation [of the 'sentiment which prompted our ancestors to determine the their children should have a better chance at the good life, the humane life, than circumstances had permitted themselves to have' pg 25] frequently betrays a vast ignorance of what the humane life really is, and of the discipline whereby alone one may make progress towards this life." pg. 26 "Its ministrations moved us to the construction, by no means deliberate but quite at haphazard, of an educational theory which may be decomposed into three basic ideas or principles. The first idea was that of equality; the second, that of democracy; and the third idea was that the one great assurance of good public order and honest government lay in a literate citizenry." pg. 27 "But we perceive at once the necessity of discriminating between a sound philosophical doctrine, such as the doctrine of equality is, and the popular formulation of that doctrine, which may be fantastically unsound." Pg. 29 "The doctrine of equality has regularly been degraded into a kind of charter for rabid self-assertion on the part of ignorance and vulgarity." Pg. 30 "Our system is based upon the assumption, popularly regarded as implicit in the doctrine of equality, that everybody is educable. ... Even our truant laws testify to it, for they are constructed with exclusive reference to school-age, not to school-ability. ... The philosophical doctrine of equality gives no more ground for the assumption that all men are educable than it does for the assumption that all men are six feet tall. We see at once, then, that it is not the philosophical doctrine of equality, but an utterly untenable popular perversion of it, that we find at the basis of our educational system." Pg. 31-32 "The iron force of circumstance has finally made us aware that it is not, never war, and never will be, those who vote that rule, but those who own; ... Republicanism does not, therefore, of itself even imply democracy." Pg 34-35 "The whole institutional life organized under the popular idea of democracy, then, must reflect this resentment. It must aim at no ideals above those of the average man; that is to say, it must regulate itself by the lowest common denominator of intelligence, taste and character in the society which it represents." pg. 39 "Bishop Butler made the acute observation that the majority of men are much more apt at passing things through their minds than they are at thinking about them." Pg 43 "For evidence of this one has but to look amour large literate population, to remark its intellectual interests, the general furniture of its mind, as these are revealed by what it reads; by the colossal, the unconscionable, volume of garbage annually shot upon the public from the presses of the country, largely in the form of newspapers and periodicals." pg 43 Pg 45 "The curricula of the primary and secondary schools and of the college should be fixed, invariable, the same for all participants. There should be no elective studies." pg 48 "The college, for example, did not reach back into the work of the secondary school to fill up any holes or take up any slack in the student's career there. If the student came to college unprepared in any particular, he was unprepared, and there was nothing to do about it but to remand him. No more did the college reach forward into the purview of the university or the technical school with any pre-vocational or pre-professional exercises." pg 49

  4. 5 out of 5

    Joel Everett

    Highly interesting book about the Great Tradition and the state of American Education as viewed in 1931 post John Dewey and like reformers. One can only imagine how Mr. Nock would have diagnosed the current State of Affairs today.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    Very interesting little book that explains some of the reasons why public education is in the state that it is in America.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Logan Albright

    This is a thought provoking book and I think Nock makes some genuinely good observations about the American education system, but I also think his conclusions are ultimately flawed. There are two major points with which I agree. The first is that the education system is based on a false premise that everyone is equally adapted to a liberal arts education. We see a political push for "higher education for all" when that is not in the best interest of everyone, and universal standards like Common C This is a thought provoking book and I think Nock makes some genuinely good observations about the American education system, but I also think his conclusions are ultimately flawed. There are two major points with which I agree. The first is that the education system is based on a false premise that everyone is equally adapted to a liberal arts education. We see a political push for "higher education for all" when that is not in the best interest of everyone, and universal standards like Common Core ignore individual differences. It is remarkable that Nock's insight remains so relevant eighty years later. Second, he observes that this imposition of false equality results in a dumbing down of standards to meet the lowest common denominator. Schools do not teach what cannot be understood by all, and thus miss out on a great deal that is worth teaching. All this is very true. Where I think Nock errs is in his belief that a liberal arts education is somehow more valuable and precious than vocational training. He quotes Jefferson as seeing that geniuses need to be separated from the "rubbish," meaning those ill adapted to Greek and Latin and philosophy. I also do not share his rather dim view of humanity that only a very small minority will ever be capable of critical thinking. While many may choose not to engage in such analysis, it does not mean they are not capable, or that they should be prevented from trying. What worries me about Nock's ideas is the way he seems to classify people in to two groups, the educable and the ineducable, in other words, the smart and the dumb. Aside from the fact that terms like "smart" have no real objective meaning (a mechanic and a philosopher are smart in different ways,) this kind of dualistic thinking has been responsible for a great many social evils, from Plato's totalitarian conception of caste society in Republic, to the eugenics movement, to the persistent progressive idea that the masses must be ruled by their intellectual betters. The important thing is not to separate the geniuses from the rubbish, but to let all individuals pursue their interests and those types of education and training for which they are most well adapted. To begin with, I think a destigmatization of vocational schooling would go a long way towards improving American education, as would more competition and choice among elementary and high schools. It is nonsense to cram all students of the same age in the same geographic region into one school with one curriculum, with no respect for their individual aptitudes or interests. The Theory of Education in the United States will make you challenge some of your deeply held assumptions about education, which is always a good thing, but I think Nock's conclusions leave much to be desired.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Honestly, I think Nock gets as much wrong as he gets right in this book. He is a hell of a writer, and a really good social critic, but I think Nock's eagerness to criticize (and his pessimistic worldview) leads him into some errors. Nock's basic thesis is that then-current educational trends led to an educational egalitarianism that we are all capable of receiving education. Nock's preferred view is that those capable of it should receive (classical) education, and that the masses should receiv Honestly, I think Nock gets as much wrong as he gets right in this book. He is a hell of a writer, and a really good social critic, but I think Nock's eagerness to criticize (and his pessimistic worldview) leads him into some errors. Nock's basic thesis is that then-current educational trends led to an educational egalitarianism that we are all capable of receiving education. Nock's preferred view is that those capable of it should receive (classical) education, and that the masses should receive something more like training (preparation for the regular tasks of life, including career training, etc). The problem is that this is pretty much what education was doing at the time Nock wrote. Administrative progressivism ("Education and the Cult of Efficiency") had really won the day, and much of it was based on a tracking system where individuals were tracked based on ability - some to a college prep type of education, and others to a "life adjustment" form of training. Deweyan progressivism really did not have the effect on education Nock and others thought it did (and this is the general consensus among education historians today). Nock did, however, foresee that the belief that all are capable of education would tend toward a watering down of what we meant by education (as it is very true that most students today receive training, that we call education, in order that we can say that all students are being educated). Nock also foresaw the damage "education as credential seeking" would do to water down schooling even further (and, to my eyes, the damages wrought by compulsory education laws).

  8. 4 out of 5

    Carol Apple

    This is the fourth book by AJ Nock I have read in the last few months, so I am not surprised by what he had to say about the way people are schooled in America. He did not consider what our schools do, from primary through university level, to be "educating" at all, but rather instructing or training with a thin veneer of liberal arts thrown in to masquerade as "education." In short, I would not imagine this book is popular among members of the NEA. I would be surprised to find it on the shelves This is the fourth book by AJ Nock I have read in the last few months, so I am not surprised by what he had to say about the way people are schooled in America. He did not consider what our schools do, from primary through university level, to be "educating" at all, but rather instructing or training with a thin veneer of liberal arts thrown in to masquerade as "education." In short, I would not imagine this book is popular among members of the NEA. I would be surprised to find it on the shelves of any public school in America. It is based on a series of lectures Nock gave in 1931 and references the then recent stock market crash and the ensuing economic woes. The educational system in America had radically changed within the past 35 years and Nock compares the new equality-driven democratic system (everybody deserves an education) to the previous system based on a formative course in Greek, Latin, and mathematics. Fascinating reading and amazingly relevant to our current state of affairs.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brent McGregor

    The Big Business of America is in institutionalized learning, heavily subsidized by partisan government interests. It is no mystery that even close to a hundred years ago the education v.s. the indoctrination of Americans was quickly running in separate paths. "Institutional Warehousing With Occurrence of Accidental Learning ", (my interpretation), is the checklist template Nock has warned about all these years ago. His critique of today's broken system also includes an austere remedy that will The Big Business of America is in institutionalized learning, heavily subsidized by partisan government interests. It is no mystery that even close to a hundred years ago the education v.s. the indoctrination of Americans was quickly running in separate paths. "Institutional Warehousing With Occurrence of Accidental Learning ", (my interpretation), is the checklist template Nock has warned about all these years ago. His critique of today's broken system also includes an austere remedy that will never be considered since billions and billions are at stake. The fact that most academics and students occupying seats in such institutions don't belong there at all is glaringly obvious when reviewing their output. Providing the bulk of our population an informative education that will enable them to pursue trades and careers is essential and what Nock proposes. But, that also provides for a level of independent thinking that is not admissible to a Progressive bureaucrat. Nock was ahead of his time because today he'd be castigated as a fanatic.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Zachary Moore

    This short book is based on a series of lectures delivered in 1931 but remains topical today as little has changed in the fundamental philosophy of western education systems. I do not share Nock's pessimism about the intellectual capacities of the majority of people, but merely placing people before books is not the same as getting them to read them. I do think many people might become educated if they chose to be, but the choice must be actively made by the individual and forcing them to sit th This short book is based on a series of lectures delivered in 1931 but remains topical today as little has changed in the fundamental philosophy of western education systems. I do not share Nock's pessimism about the intellectual capacities of the majority of people, but merely placing people before books is not the same as getting them to read them. I do think many people might become educated if they chose to be, but the choice must be actively made by the individual and forcing them to sit through many years of classes will not necessarily inspire them to take an interest in educational matters.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sylvester Kuo

    A book of lecture collections from Nock regarding the decline of education in America. Nock outline the difference between education and academia. Not everyone is educatable but that's what the government thinks which led to the degeneracy of the universities in the United States (and other countries) right after the great depression. There needs to be elitism rather than simple literacy, a good education will naturally lead to vocation, rather than useless degrees. However, I do think there nee A book of lecture collections from Nock regarding the decline of education in America. Nock outline the difference between education and academia. Not everyone is educatable but that's what the government thinks which led to the degeneracy of the universities in the United States (and other countries) right after the great depression. There needs to be elitism rather than simple literacy, a good education will naturally lead to vocation, rather than useless degrees. However, I do think there needs to be more foundations than the traditional 4 (Literature, Medicine, Law and Theology).

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey

    The more volumes on education I read, the more I come to feel that this is one of the best. Nock lays out his argument and expounds on each point, almost like he's writing an epistle. The core idea -- that not every citizen is "educable" -- should be self-evident but is still regarded as revolutionary (or, in some circles, blasphemous). Nock's lectures (for that is the origin of the book) contain the most concise, readable explanation for why, nearly 100 years on, we should still be clamoring to The more volumes on education I read, the more I come to feel that this is one of the best. Nock lays out his argument and expounds on each point, almost like he's writing an epistle. The core idea -- that not every citizen is "educable" -- should be self-evident but is still regarded as revolutionary (or, in some circles, blasphemous). Nock's lectures (for that is the origin of the book) contain the most concise, readable explanation for why, nearly 100 years on, we should still be clamoring to roll back the educational reforms that swept the nation at the turn of the previous century.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Kidd

    A highly readable, controversial indictment of modern college education in America. If only Nock saw what college has become today! Most readers will balk at Nock's notion that most Americans--most people--are not 'educable', but those familiar with our education system will at least resonate with the notion that we spend far too much time and energy on students who, at a minimum, do not wish to be educated!

  14. 4 out of 5

    John Sharp

    If you are an educator, this is a must read!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Shane Van Cleve

  16. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  17. 5 out of 5

    Shane Van Cleve

  18. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Summers

  19. 4 out of 5

    Melodydiehl

  20. 5 out of 5

    Erez Davidi

  21. 5 out of 5

    Christine

  22. 4 out of 5

    Akbar

  23. 5 out of 5

    Paul Vittay

  24. 5 out of 5

    Eric Arthurton

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sabrina

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rob Harrelson

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mbaker1788

  29. 4 out of 5

    Pastor Ben

  30. 4 out of 5

    Robert Terry

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