The importance of education in the life of a nation and the rise of civilisation cannot be underestimated. It is a half-truth to say that education is necessary in the modern world. Education has always been necessary to preserve the human race from a lapse into rude ignorance.
Education is the medium by which civilisation is preserved and fostered. It is, therefore, both a tool and a virtue. Education is essential to the preservation of tradition, the perpetuation of the accumulated learning and experience of past generations, the training of persons of learning and expertise in various essential fields (such as the various trades and professions) and the communication of discoveries and inventions. Above all these, education equips individuals for the prudent conduct of their lives.
The import of these statements must be qualified both in terms of the efficacy of education and by defining the nature of education. Firstly, education cannot make a man good or evil. It can just as easily produce a clever devil as a benevolent sage. The world has seen many examples of evil genius, even amongst men of culture and taste. Francis Bacon may stand as a salient example. He strove to make all knowledge his province and yet his sense was corrupted by immoderacy and a callous spirit. He was beaten by a better man.
Secondly, the most that education can do is to create an awareness of the difference between good and evil. Similarly, education cannot make a person prudent. It can supply him with knowledge but it cannot induce him to make use of it. Nevertheless, how shall he be prudent without knowledge? Forethought is limited by foreknowledge. Moreover, a well educated man becomes accustomed to putting his knowledge to good use.
Thirdly, the benefits of education must be correctly attributed. There is much that masquerades as education but is entirely destructive, misleading and foolish. True education is the imparting of knowledge to the individual together with the disciplined development of the student's intellectual faculties so that he is able to fully and correctly discern, understand and apply it. Its characteristics must therefore be objectivity and discipline. The former is relevant to the substantive content of instruction. The latter is relevant to the methods of instruction and examination. The former is the necessary prerequisite of the latter.
Any theory that emphasises subjectivity, independent evaluation even with objective criteria, or that asserts that knowledge itself is a purely subjective individual criterion, is unworthy of the name of education. Any system which fails to uphold and instil discipline is not worthy of the name of education. Any system which is not solidly founded upon a core of substantive knowledge (eg mathematics, grammar, literature, Latin, science, history, music, etc) is not worthy of the name of education.
The production of a socially coherent body of "socially well-adjusted" persons is the goal, not of education but of indoctrination. Education does not aim at the mechanical reproduction of subjective views. In the context of the inherent limitations of the human mind, education aims and reaches towards (however imperfectly) a concept of truth and the development of faculties of objective assessment. It relies upon the propensity for truth to prevail through objective enquiry, discussion, analysis, appreciation and discrimination. Truth and objectivity in an absolute sense are unachievable by human beings - but what is crucial is to strive towards the ideal with an awareness of human imperfections.
True education is beneficial to personal development in many ways. It assists a person to rise above banality and sordidity, lifting him out of cultural barbarism and acquainting him with civilised culture. It illuminates his mind with learning, the thought and experience of generations uncounted. Giving him knowledge it helps him to understand the world, his place and his duties.
It helps him to rise above his circumstances, even adversity, to master his destiny. History, theology, moral philosophy and poetry help him to realise more fully the range of action which is open to him and the implication and consequence of various actions.
True education instils discipline, discernment, refinement and subtlety of thought. It develops a capacity to appreciate nobility. It strengthens the mind, develops its finer sensibilities and irradiates it with grace and beauty.
The incidence of education of a high standard is a mark of a civilised nation. It is both a contributing factor towards and a result of, such eminence. It helps to produce responsible, productive, prudent, creative and erudite citizens. It is necessary for the preservation of knowledge and tradition and to the processes of constructive technological and institutional development.
However, it is only true education that can further these objects. The substitution of a system founded upon false principles can only be destructive of the general welfare, since it undermines the benefits and virtues that true education conveys and that are necessary to the maintenance of civil standards.