The practical Newman: adapting theory

Newman saw the need of delineating the great principles of education, but he was also quite prepared to admit that education involves ‘questions not merely of immutable truth, but of practice and expedience’.

Rather than feel constrained by the principles he had so eloquently described in his Dublin lectures, he was ruthless in the way he went about applying them in practice – as indeed he indicates in the first lecture: ‘It is no principle with sensible men, of whatever cast of opinion, to do always what is abstractedly the best. Where no direct duty forbids, we may be obliged to do, as being best under the circumstances, what we murmur and rise against, while we do it. We see that to attempt more is to effect less; that we must accept so much, or gain nothing; and so perforce we reconcile ourselves to what we would have far otherwise, if we could.’ (Idea of a university)

This rule of thumb goes some way towards explaining why Newman did not feel constrained to follow existing educational models – or his own high principles – and instead devised new arrangements which borrowed from various traditions, so long as they could be fused into a coherent whole.

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