- Dec 2017
Some good men, and even of respectable information, consider the learned sciences as useless acquirements
While few people today would consider the sciences to be useless acquisitions, a similar debate has recently emerged over the value of a liberal arts education. The liberal arts' detractors claim that many of the subjects taught in a liberal arts curriculum are "useless", perhaps in the same way that some believed science to be useless in Jefferson's day. People who dislike the liberal arts argue that a university education should be a means to an end; something that prepares you for a specific type of job. Because liberal arts generally aren't career-focused, those people label it a waste of time and money. However, proponents of the liberal arts argue that an education should be more than mere job training. They argue that an education should foster critical thinking, interest in ideas and thought, and a passion for learning. It seems very clear that Jefferson would agree with this position, as the report goes onto say that an education "generates habits of application, and a love of virtue". Jefferson's belief in education as an end in itself lives on at UVA today, as the college of arts and sciences still promotes a curriculum which is well-rounded and not career-oriented.
The best mode of government for youth in large collections, is certainly a desideratum not yet attained with us. It may well be questioned whether fear, after a certain age, is the motive to which we should have ordinary recourse. The human character is susceptible of other incitements to correct conduct, more worthy of employ, and of better effect. Pride of character, laudable ambition, & moral dispositions are innate correctives of the indiscretions of that lively age; and when strengthened by habitual appeal & exercise, have a happier effect on future character, than the degrading motive of fear; hardening them to disgrace, to corporal punishments, and servile humiliations, cannot be the best process for producing erect character.
I like this passage because it clearly reflects the quintessentially American belief in Lockean-style self government, the cornerstone idea of the Declaration of independence and our Constitution. Both documents respectively criticize the British government for its heavy-handed response to American dissent, and outline a style of government which is bound together by pride and moral principle, rather than fear and punishment. The writers of the Rockfish Gap Report clearly intended to replicate this style of government in the university; they wanted students to obey the rules of the university because they believed in them and were proud of them, not because they were afraid of the consequences that might follow if they didn't.