Educating in virtue

Newman has drawn out some of the practical consequences of overlooking ‘the real end of educating’, such as the tendency ‘to store their minds with many precepts and much information’, attempting to do a great deal in a short time, and trying to educate ‘by mechanism’, instead of taking children separately and addressing them ‘almost one by one’. (‘On some popular mistakes as to the object of education’, sermon given in 1826)

Newman explained that, living among a highly civilised people, the Christians at Corinth fell into the error of ‘preferring knowledge to that warm and spiritual charity or love’, gifts to graces, the powers of the intellect to moral excellence. Newman pointed out that he and his congregation were living in parallel times, and warned that the error of exalting human knowledge over Christian love or piety would lead to the mistake ‘of supposing, that in proportion as men know more, they will be better men in a moral point of view’, and that a good education is a remedy for the world’s evil. (‘On some popular mistakes as to the object of education’, sermon given in 1826)

The liberal reformers of the first half of the nineteenth century wanted (in Newman’s words) to make ‘knowledge, rather than moral discipline the object of our studies, and to cultivate rather the habit of bold and irreverent inquiry’, instead of those virtues attuned to the pursuit and reverence of truth. While utilitarian thinking led to over-emphasis on the intellect and neglect of the moral dimension of the person, the Tractarians placed equal if not greater emphasis on raising moral and religious standards, understood as the ‘intertwined combination of sound belief and right conduct’. (The foundation of faith assailed in Oxford,1835)

In refuting the critics of Oxford, William Sewell wrote:

‘We […] do not consider the communication of knowledge as the chief design of our post, or the grand end of education […] We are […] entrusted with the care of the young […] and our consideration is to form and fashion and bring them to that model of human nature, which in our conscience we think is perfection.’ (Thoughts on the admission of Dissenters to the University of Oxford, and on the establishment of a state religion, 1834)

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