The Education of Seven Eminent Americans
by Philip Cusick, (Teachers College, 192 pages, $24.95)
Cusick’s thesis—namely, that “education is primarily an individual, not an institutional, responsibility”—is perhaps a surprising one for an education professor to make. Such an assertion certainly runs counter to the current assumption that teachers can—and must—compel students to acquire knowledge and skills.
Cusick, chairman of the Department of Educational Administration at Michigan State University, examines the educational experiences of Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Jane Adams, W.E.B. Du Bois, Eleanor Roosevelt, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Dorothy Day. For some, such as Franklin and Lincoln, education was an autodidactic affair; they read independently but deeply and demonstrated an ability to create themselves by reflecting upon their experiences. But this was also true of those with more traditional educational backgrounds. Day may have attended the University of Illinois on a scholarship, but the bohemian who caroused about Greenwich Village in her 20s transformed herself into a Catholic activist who worked tirelessly for the poor.
Schooling, Cusick argues, can certainly be valuable in fostering skills and knowledge. But it is only a starting point. A deep and lifelong education, as exemplified in the lives examined here, “depends on being open to learning, open to participating fully, and open to creating the person one becomes.”