Education's End

Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life

Anthony T. Kronman

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A passionate call for our colleges and universities to prepare young people for lives of fulfillment not just successful careers

The question of what living is for—of what one should care about and why—is the most important question a person can ask. Yet under the influence of the modern research ideal, our colleges and universities have expelled this question from their classrooms, judging it unfit for organized study. In this eloquent and carefully considered book, Tony Kronman explores why this has happened and calls for the restoration of life’s most important question to an honored place in higher education.The author contrasts an earlier era in American education, when the question of the meaning of life was at the center of instruction, with our own times, when this question has been largely abandoned by college and university teachers.  In particular, teachers of the humanities, who once felt a special responsibility to guide their students in exploring the question of what living is for, have lost confidence in their authority to do so. And they have lost sight of the question itself in the blinding fog of political correctness that has dominated their disciplines for the past forty years. Yet Kronman sees a readiness for change—a longing among teachers as well as students to engage questions of ultimate meaning. He urges a revival of the humanities’ lost tradition of studying the meaning of life through the careful but critical reading of great works of literary and philosophical imagination. And he offers here the charter document of that revival.

Anthony T. Kronman is Sterling Professor of Law, Yale Law School. Since stepping down as Dean of the Law School in 2004, he has been teaching in the Directed Studies Program at Yale and devoting himself to the humanities.

"Kronman unfolds here a sustained argument marked by subtlety, force, nuance, and considerable appeal."—Francis Oakley, President Emeritus, Williams College

“In a brilliant, sustained argument that is as forthright, bold, and passionately felt as it is ideologically unclassifiable and original, Anthony Kronman leaps in a bound into the center of America’s cultural disputes, not to say cultural wars. Although Kronman’s specific area of concern is higher education, his argument will reach far beyond campus walls.”—Jonathan Schell, author of The Unconquerable World:  Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People

"Just when we need them most, the humanities have relinquished their role at the heart of liberal education—helping students reflect on what makes life worth living. In this bold and provocative book, Anthony Kronman explains why the humanities have lost their way. With eloquence and passion, he argues that departments of literature, classics, and philosophy can recover their authority and prestige only by reviving their traditional focus on fundamental questions about the meaning of life."—

Michael J. Sandel, author of The Case against Perfection and Public Philosophy

“No question that the humanities are in a bad way in education at the present, and this book offers not just an argument that they should be more highly prized, but a carefully reasoned position of what happened, why it did, and what needs and can be done about it.”—Alvin Kernan, author of In Plato’s Cave

"Defining 'a good life,' claims Kronman, has been 'pushed to the margins of professional respectability' in the fields of literature, philosophy, history, and politics. In Education's End, he examines the causes and consequences of this change—and the likelihood of a cure. Elegant and eloquent, Education's End plays variations on themes oft-articulated by critics of higher education in the United States."—Glenn C. Altschuler, Baltimore Sun

"An impassioned defense of the humanities."—Robert Messenger, Wall Street Journal

"Kronman . . . shows how colleges, in abandoning the profound questions that have perplexed philosophers and writers throughout human history, have betrayed their students, depriving them of disciplined rumination before they're caught up in the urgent business of adult life. In Education's End, he writes that in emphasizing the secular, professors offer no recognition of the spirit and spiritual values."—Washington Times

"Kronman argues his case passionately. His discussion of the transformation of American higher education over the last century and a half is most illuminating and many of his observations about our current educational malaise are directly on target, especially his analysis of the mania over 'diversity.'"—George Leef,

"In Education's End Kronman succeeds remarkably well, even movingly, in conveying the intellectual and spiritual joy that a serious student can find by participating in the 'great conversation.' . . . His anguish over the plight of the humanities comes through with persuasive clarity. So does his fresh critique of the unanticipated damage wrought by the research model that undergirds today's universities."—Ben Wildavsky, Commentary

"Education's End is less sensational than most volumes on higher education, but no less important. Anthony Kronman . . . hasn't merely produced another despairing account of academic shortcomings; instead, Education's End explains why colleges have ended up in such bad shape. Kronman argues that universities, especially their humanities departments, have actively made themselves irrelevant—and he documents just how they've don it. They've done it by wittingly giving up on the meaning of life."—Liam Julian, The Weekly Standard

"Stimulating reading. . . .  Recommended."—Choice

"Highly useful and provocative."—James Piereson, The New Criterion

"Kronman, brilliant and rarely belligerent, demonstrates that he is a worthy successor not only to Alvin Kernan and John Ellis but also to Irving Babbitt as a spokesman for the humanities."—James Seaton, Univeristy Bookman

"Kronman's book is compelling. . . . [It] can inspire us to awaken the desire in our students to pursue consciously and articulately the quest for an account of how they are going to live meaningful lives. . . . Kronman has written and important book that we all should heed, especially those of us who teach religion."—Jeffrey McCurry, Teaching Theology & Religion

"A full-throated defense of the humanities as food for the soul."—Andrew Delbanco, Commonweal

"Among the more formidable attempts to help higher education address life's big questions was the Great Books movement . . . . Anthony T. Kronman, former dean of the Law School at Yale, makes a laudable attempt to revive this Great Conversation approach in Education's End . . . . I found myself returning to his pages to read again his rationale, to get lost in the helpful details of his footnotes, and to try to figure out what we have in common in using many of the same great books to understand the human condition."—Jerry Pattengale, Books & Culture

"Kronman's study is an important contribution to the discussion about what education is for, and where it is going."—David Clemens, Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies
ISBN: 9780300122886
Publication Date: September 25, 2007
320 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
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