Are Non-Academic Students Dull?

Administering a school today is in many ways much more dif­ficult than it was in the day of a very limited program of studies for a select group of students. Compulsory edu­cation is enough to complicate mat­ters at the elementary and secondary levels. Prosperity, government, pri­vate scholarship aids, and techno logical advances bring all kinds of students to our colleges.

Are These Students Dull?

The needs of students have become so varied that no single curriculum can satisfy them. Introducing new curriculums, however, meets resist­ance. We give lip service to the fact that talents vary and that patterns of personality growth differ; yet we are prone to call those students dull who do not do well in the traditional aca­demic subjects. Teachers and admin­istrators can well appreciate the prob­lem as put by Dr. Jacques Maritain: “But what about the main difficulty, namely, the fact that for many boys and girls intellectual life, liberal arts, and the humanities are only a bore, and that as a result liberal education, in proportion as it is extended to a greater and greater number of young people, seems condemned to degen­erate and fall to lower and lower lev­els? I am far from believing that ail the boys and girls in question should be rated as duller students.”1


The Dignity of Manual Activity

Generally speaking, I suppose, most of us would agree that both in school and out of school many of our non­-academic students are not dull. Yet we have set up a hierarchy in our sub­ject offerings. Those primarily intel­lectual are at the top of the scale and those primarily manual are at the bot­ tom. Dr. Maritain, however, states that both manual and intellectual work are fully human activities which respond to the spirit God has given man. Both are liberating activities be­ cause both activities help man be­ come man. A literary education is not an adequate liberal education. “A deeper and more general principle must be brought to the fore. What principle? The Christian principle of the dignity of manual activity.

“This principle, which the monks of former times perfectly understood, was long disregarded by reason of social structure and ideological preju­dice, both of which kept more or less the imprint of the times when manual labor was the job of slaves.”2 Today, however, Maritain feels, “a general rehabilitation of manual work will characterize the next period of our industrial civilization.”3 Christian edu­cation, therefore, should hold in equal esteem the creative works of the hand and of the mind.

God the Creator of Manual Skill

It ought not surprise us that this should be so. We are created in the image of God. God expressed himself through the heavens and the earth. If we are to do justice to all of our youth, should not our faculties include Aholiabs and Bezalels who can teach those whom “the Lord hath filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of workmanship, of the engraver, and of the skillful workman, and of the embroiderer, in blue, and in purple, in scarlet, and in fine linen, and of the weaver, even of them that do any workmanship, and of those that devise skillful work”?4

Today we are encouraged to take a fresh look at the curriculum. I sus­pect that science, although not a lit­erary art, will without too much resist­ance take up more time and space in the program of general and liberal education. Should there not be an equally frank recognition that home economics and industrial arts can also playa role in helping man to achieve freedom? Many a professional man says, “Thank God, I learned to work with my hands.”5 This must be even more true .of women whose careers are homemaking.

As administrators we do not meet Our responsibility to the non-academic youth by submitting them to a school career of “D’s” and “E’s.” Neither do we meet our responsibility to our youth who are talented along academic lines by weighting their progress through classroom teaching that aims at the average. Would we not have a better education for all if we would candidly implement a bipolar conception of lib­eral education? “We would no longer have to choose between obliging stu­dents unconcerned with disinterested knowledge to trudge along in the rear of classes which are a bore to them or diverting them toward other and supposedly inferior studies by reason of a lack, or a lesser capacity. We would have these students enter into a different but equally esteemed and appreciated system of study, and steer spontaneously, by reason of a positive preference, enjoyment, and capacity, for a type of liberal educa­tion which, while remaining essenti­ally concerned with humanities, pre­ pares them for some vocation pertain­ ing to manual work. Of course, we would not do this by making them apprentices in any of the innumerable manual vocations. Rather, we would teach them, theoretically and practi­cally, matters concerning the general categories into which manual service can be divided, such as farming, craftsmanship, and the various types of modem industrial labor.”6

1. The Christian Idea of Education. Ed. Edmund Fuller, Yale University Press, 1957, Hartford. (All quotations above taken from this book are from Dr. Jacques Maritain’s lecture. “On Some Typical Aspects of Christian Education”)

2. idem p. 194

3. idem p. 194

4. Exodus 35:35

5. Cf. Glenn Ford, “I Can Always Escape,” The Saturday Evening Post, Vol. 30, No. 57, January 4, 1958

6. Maritain Op. Cit. p. 196