Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 8. 10 June 1970
Education &: empire
Education &: empire
The educational tradition of 19th century Britain was Aristotclean, Lockcan, liberal. Education was desired to be and essentially was non-vocational, non-practical, non-utilitarian. One has the impression—and I don't think it is false—that in Britain the whole structure of government and empire rested on this liberal educational base. Whitehall, the colonial civil service, parliament itself, were recruited from the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. (Indeed, until comparatively recently these two universities had a special allotment of seats in the British lower house.) Since the British Empire was notably successful, at least as viewed by the 19th century observer, the, inference was that the kind of education given to those running it was the best kind of education for men of affairs. This tradition, which has been so firm a part of British university thinking, and which spilled out also into the universities of its colonies and dominions, has, over the last 30 years or so, taken some pretty severe punishment. A question to be asked—and answered—is whether the concept of a liberal education, Locke's mens sarin in corpore sano, a sound mind in a sound body, has relevance for us today.
One source of the punishment received by the liberal tradition of university education has been the social, economic and political impact of science and technology. Admitted into the shelter of the universities, the practitioners of science and technology rather rapidly developed the new ways of thinking about the experimenting with the universe and its contents. In the 200 years from Boyle to Kelvin science developed from a fascinating hobby for well-to-do amateurs into a lifetime career for professionals. And in so doing it grew into the most powerful body of knowledge ever available to man-powerful in the sense that it could and did set going great changes in civilization. Abundant cheap steel from the application of chemistry, abundant electricity from the application of Faraday's discoveries in electro-magnetic induction are but two mid-19th century examples of its products. New developments came with increasing frequency. The automobile appeared just before the turn of the century, then radio, and flight soon after. To the educated adult of late Victorian and Edwardian times the prospect must have been purely dazzling. Britain in particular had enjoyed a long period of relative stability and peace. Certainly there was some poverty. Bur there was also great wealth, and the prospect of yet greater wealth to tome. The scientific humanist of the turn of the century was filled with a confident belief in the potential of science and technology (or engineering, as he would have called it) for good. This 19th century optimism-epitomized perhaps in H.G. Wells-could for see these remarkable new servants being used with ever-increasing power to solve the material and social ills of mankind.