In “Our English Syllabus” Lewis portrays education as a path on which man becomes increasingly understanding of reality so that he can participate in the pursuit of knowledge. The purpose of this path is ultimately to “produce the good man and the good citizen.” Such a man is one who maintains an interest in society and contains some interest for society.
A distinction is made between vocational training and leisure education. Lewis maintains that vocational training prevents man from reverting to his natural amateurish or savage behavior. It is the first step in towards civilization while leisure education distinguishes man from all other animals.
At this point Lewis contends that man is the only amateur animal; all the rest having some specific purpose which they are constantly carrying out. This is an excellent point. I believe this difference between man and other animals is one example of how we are made in the image of God. It is one reason why man was told to rule over the rest of God’s creation.
A second distinction that Lewis makes is the difference between education and learning. In his view education should be the focus of a school pupil, while learning is an activity that should be carried out by all men especially university students who are not yet under vocational strain. Lewis explains it best when he distinguishes the relationships these students have with their teachers. In a schoolroom setting the teacher’s is solely concerned with teaching and improving the student’s character. Likewise the student is solely concerned with obeying his teacher. On the other hand, the college teacher and university student have the same concern: the pursuit of knowledge. That is not to say that education does not occur in a university, but it is merely a by-product of learning.
Lewis has now reached his final point. A university environment should be such that the teacher strives to simulate reality and the student strives to discover knowledge without thought to self-improvement. A school setting allows the teacher to select all subject matter and thus offers a sheltered view of reality. A university setting points the student in the direction of the core of reality and allows him the freedom to experience reality on his own from that point. It is necessary to restrict the student’s exploration to the core of reality because otherwise he would need to explore everything; this is an impossible task to complete in a life-time much less four years. The reason to avoid following a teacher’s selection of a subject is to allow the student to expand upon present knowledge.
If find it interesting that Lewis' admonition to continue the learning process throughout our lives is applicable to this day and age. For example the most common suggestion for countering globalization and the loss of jobs in the United States to other countries is for people to continue learning even after college. It is believed that continuous pursuit of knowledge will improve one's value in the job market. Lewis' essay argues in favor of the continuous pursuit of knowledge because it is the purpose of being human.
I agree with Lewis’ reasoning in this essay. I have always thought of college as a stepping stone from the sheltered high school life into the “real world.” It is a time to begin personal exploration without the restraints of school curriculum. I also appreciate Lewis’ distinction between education and learning. Learning is not an activity that ends when one’s schooling ends. Learning is a process that must continue throughout one’s life. As humans we have such finite minds that we will never reach a point at which we have nothing left to learn. I also enjoyed Lewis’ metaphors in this essay, particularly the one at the end which depicts the university student as a person who is told to go out and get dinner rather than being handed a menu to choose dinner from. Furthermore, I appreciated Lewis’ statement: “Our selection would be an effort to bind the future within our present knowledge and taste: nothing more could come out than we had put in.” This statement accentuates the need for continuous learning. While it is specifically referencing knowledge of this earth I think it is also applicable to our knowledge of God. If we refuse to experience God in new ways we will never be able to fully experience Him. Thus we should always seek to learn more than we currently know even if in doing so we encounter truths that are contrary to our current understanding.