Book Review: The Great Tradition by Richard Gamble

It is widely recognized now that Western education is in a state of crisis and has been for more than a generation. What is, unfortunately, not widely recognized is the source of this crisis. With each attempt at reform, public education in the United States slips further away from authentic education into a vast abyss of Western self-hatred, technical and vocational training, and, ultimately, nihilism. What Richard Gamble offers here is that great chorus of voices that adjures and admonishes us to return to the proper course and to salvage education for the sake of civilization and mankind.

These pages include authors spanning nearly 3000 years. Not to be found among them, however, are the likes of Rousseau, Dewey, and others who would put education to the use of advancing an agenda entailing the dissolution of the Western tradition. Instead, we are treated to the great voices of wisdom from each era in the history of the West. Some of these voices are the very sources of that tradition, such as Plato and Aristotle, others the great passers-on of that tradition such as John of Salisbury and Petrarch. Others are the modern proponents of that tradition, even with the deluge of voices against it, such as T.S. Eliot and Christopher Dawson.

Each of these voices offers an unique perspective on the same Great Tradition. Some offer general guidance or argumentation in favor of an education in the classics. Others offer practical advice on what such an education should look like. A few provide programs of study.

What each presents is an education in the good, the true, and the beautiful. What each encourages us to cling to is the notion that there is what is and that it is our task, as the only animal capable of ascertaining what is, to discern and understand what is. In other words, there is a truth about the cosmos, about man, and about the divine order. The great task of a human being is to seek after that truth. A liberal education is the first step in that process, whereas vocational training coupled with a smattering of “humanities” from the relativist perspective is perhaps the soundest way ever invented to permanently maim the human mind and soul, rendering it incapable of pursuing truth.

This book should be required reading for every teacher education program, yet it never will be. It is, rather, the antidote to the modern system of mass education and all that it hopes to accomplish. I recommend this book for anyone interested in the restoration of authentic humane learning.

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