Education on Beauty


Georges de la Tour, “Education of the Virgin”

“We spend the first year of a child’s life teaching it to walk and talk and the rest of its life to shut up and sit down. There’s something wrong there.”
Neil de Grasse Tyson

When you are chosen to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, an owl shows up with a letter informing you that you are the chosen lucky one. It does not matter what background you come from, however humble – the letter will inevitably arrive at your doorstep if you show magical abilities. It does not matter either who your parents were – whether non-magical people or wizards and witches themselves – you will be admitted only on your own merit. The following two quotes are only seemingly similar – the first relates to Ivy League colleges, the second to Hogwarts.

 1.“The physical form of the university—its quads and residential colleges, with their Gothic stone façades and wrought-iron portals—is constituted by the locked gate set into the encircling wall. Everyone carries around an ID card that determines which gates they can enter. The gate, in other words, is a kind of governing metaphor—because the social form of the university, as is true of every elite school, is constituted the same way. Elite colleges are walled domains guarded by locked gates, with admission granted only to the elect. The aptitude with which students absorb this lesson is demonstrated by the avidity with which they erect still more gates within those gates, special realms of ever-greater exclusivity—at Yale, the famous secret societies, or as they should probably be called, the open-secret societies, since true secrecy would defeat their purpose. There’s no point in excluding people unless they know they’ve been excluded.”

William Deresiewicz, “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education


Yale old Campus and Branford College

 2.“The school has numerous charms and spells on and around it that make it impossible for a Muggle  (i.e. a non-magical person) to locate it. Muggles cannot see the school; rather, they see only ruins and several warnings of danger.”

Source: Wikipedia


I think the open-secret approach of Ivy League colleges is a sad aberration and bespeaks spiritual emptiness of these places. There is no sacred knowledge guarded there. Recently, I have read a fascinating essay by William Deresiewicz about an elite education in the USA. The main idea proposed by the author is that an elite education in Ivy League colleges trains student to be nothing more than “excellent sheep,” whose entire sense of self is “built around their ability to succeed.” Such expectations feed conformity and mediocrity, but paradoxically – also a vast sense of superiority and self-congratulation:“We were ‘the best and the brightest,’ as these places love to say, and everyone else was, well, something else: less good, less bright. … I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to elite colleges, often precisely for reasons of class.” The most important point that the author makes is that we tend to forget that academic achievement does not translate into objective superiority. Deresiewicz ironically remarks that getting through the gate may be extremely difficult but once you are in, the old-boy network will keep you in at all costs: “Not the most abject academic failure, not the most heinous act of plagiarism, not even threatening a fellow student with bodily harm—I’ve heard of all three—will get you expelled.” Once you are in the club, you will stay in the club and as a member of the elite you can always count on “another extension—a bailout, a pardon, a stint in rehab—always plenty of contacts and special stipends—the country club, the conference, the year-end bonus, the dividend.”


Harvard University Canteen

Deresiewicz muses about the true purpose of education, which, according to him, is “to make minds, not careers.” He says: “Only a small minority have seen their education as part of a larger intellectual journey, have approached the work of the mind with a pilgrim soul.” He emphasizes the need to rebel, to go into spiritual exile, to distance yourself from the system and not conform to it – by being a seeker, not a thoroughbread. Instead, Ivy Leage hopefuls:

 “Long before they got to college, they turned themselves into world-class hoop-jumpers and teacher-pleasers, getting A’s in every class no matter how boring they found the teacher or how pointless the subject, racking up eight or 10 extracurricular activities no matter what else they wanted to do with their time.”

A very similar reflection on modern depersonalized education I have found in Dane Rudhyar’s Directives for New Life:

 “The entire process is career-conscious and profit-oriented. It is ‘functional’, of course, in an institutional sense; but this means that the goal is to feed our various institutions (business, professions, government bureaucracy) instead of individual persons. One used to speak of army-recruits as cannon-fodder; our schools seek to produce machine-fodder for the artificial mechanisms of our corporate state.”

pink-floyd-wall kids

Pink Floyd, The Wall Movie

Although Deresiewicz focuses on elite schools, I think we can safely say that the almost entire system of education is there to “produce machine-fodder for the artificial mechanisms of our corporate state.”  Yes, Ivy League colleges educate the elites, other colleges lower-rank employees, but what is more significant is that neither nourishes or encourages one to look within, follow one’s true calling or just wait and “loafe and invite your soul.” In short, imagination is banned if the chief orientation of educational institutions is to produce efficient workforce. As C.G. Jung remarked:

 “For everyone whose guiding principle is adaptation to external reality, imagination is . . . something reprehensible and useless. And yet we know that every good idea and all creative work are the offspring of the imagination, and have their source in . . . infantile fantasy. . . . The dynamic principle of fantasy is play, a characteristic also of the child, and as such it appears inconsistent with the principle of serious work. But without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable.

C.G. Jung, “Psychological Types,” quoted after “Education and Imagination: Post-Jungian Perspectives”



Rudhyar also emphasizes that enriching education needs to stir the imagination as well as should be “a way of periodical rebirth in consciousness.” In his essay “The Education of the Soul: The Platonist Tradition and the Ordering of Knowledge,” Brian K. Etter reminds us that the true object of knowledge is to have a vision of beauty as a whole, which is hard to obtain in modern education, “fragmented into jealously guarded disciplines and approached by means of a smorgasbord of courses.”  He quotes Marsilio Ficino on Beauty: “Beauty is a certain act or ray from it penetrating through all things: first into the Angelic Mind, second into the Soul of the whole, and other souls, third into Nature, fourth into the Matter of bodies” and adds:

 “The sciences, the arts, history, and philosophy are the steps toward knowledge of Beauty in itself. They constitute a vision of liberal education that is not utilitarian, but whose value must be understood precisely through the moral concept of nobility that is the end of such an education. In embracing the concept of beauty or nobility, liberal education affirms the value of life itself.”


Chiron tutoring the boy Achilles, Roman fresco from Pompeii




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28 Responses to Education on Beauty

  1. Nice post, Monika. I applied to Harvard and was rejected (their loss). My daughter got into an “elite” college, though. She was accepted to the School of Cinematic Arts at USC, which is the most prestigious of film schools (only 3% of applicants accepted). The advantage of going there–she will make connections in the film industry. The truth is, an education doesn’t get you a job anymore. Connections and networking are what get you in the door. It’s all who you know.


    • Hi Jeff
      Thanks for your comment and sharing some information about your education. I completed all my education while still in Poland and I guess one can say it was in “elite” universities, but the crucial difference is that state education in Poland is free, so it is more accessible and social mobility is much more common than in the States. It is our tradition to share Mark Twain with you in comments. I remember reading somewhere once that he never let his schooling interfere with his education. I subscribe to that.


  2. Dewin Nefol says:

    Hey Monika,

    A colourful compression of fine images, lateral thinking, and associated ideas bound within the words of the Levitation Charm ‘Wingardium Leviosa’…the etymology of which may comprise: wing, the poetic English reference to flight; arduus, arduum from the Latin ‘high, tall, lofty, steep, proudly elevated,’ and arduum ‘steep place, or the steep’; and Leviosa (possibly) from the Latin levo, to “raise, lift up”, or levis, meaning light in weight. In translation the incantation, as also your post, might be read as to “lift up high” or be ‘uplifting.’

    Enjoyable, insightful and eclectic, and re-affirming the values of the true seeker with a deft touch as always, the Neil de Grasse Tyson quote is a whisper, a gentle reminder to our inner pilgrim to remain ceaseless in its quest for enlightenment and knowledge of both heaven and earth. And, who could resist the enchantment and magical-realism of either Hogwarts or Pink Floyd?

    As a an aside…I was reminded whilst reading your blog of sentiments expressed by a character called Prot in the novel (and Kevin Spacey film) K-Pax, written by Gene Brewer. ‘Schools (educational establishments) are not for teaching anything. They exist solely to pass on society’s beliefs and values to it’s students.’ I find this a far-reaching thought to consider, that there exists a significant difference between being taught and being educated, and a perhaps a further difference still between both of these and pursuing one’s true calling in life…perhaps more Ascendio than taught Confundo?


    DN – 15/10/2014

    P.S: Curiously, there is a Geminio charm in Harry Potter, used by Hermione Granger on Salazar Slytherin’s Locket to disguise her presence from Dolores Umbridge…the charm creates an identical copy of the target, which must be pretty useful on occasion I would think… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Dewin (I somehow always thought that alias has something to do with Harry Potter, or maybe it is just the sound of it :))
      It is always good to come across a fellow Harry Potter enthusiast. I like your explication of the Levitation Charm and I remember the Geminio charm very well. So yes, as a Gemini, I always pack my posts with my favourite toys and gadgets – and if I had known about those words of Prot, I may have included them, too, because he was a way cool character.
      Yes, it is all about the Calling, I agree.
      Thanks for an entertaining comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dewin Nefol says:

        Hey Monika,

        Shhh…don’t let on, but between you and I…The Elder Wand may now reside with Dewin Nefol of Bryn Myrddin…

        …and if you have never bought a piece of film memorabilia before then may I suggest a wand from Olivander’s Olde Wand Shoppe? The experience of first ownership is really quite enchanting. In a room with subdued lighting…to unpack a wand from its bespoke box, is to smile with breath held in anticipation of the lid rising, is to hesitantly turn the shimmering sapphire ribbon concealing the prize with a trembling hand, is to be captivated by fabled treasure inlaid in deep blue velvet and be seduced by the forgotten feeling of enchantment at the maddening rush of fantasy. But to hold in the hand the most powerful wand of all…why Monika, such a moment leaves a wizard’s eyes blazing with the fiery white gleam of a thousand cut diamonds 🙂


        DN – 16/102/014

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Bostjan K. says:

    Sad, but all very true. I’ve got a sense that lately there is something in the air, that keeps us looking at all this. All best, SR.


  4. ptero9 says:

    Super like Monika! Excellent post.

    “He emphasizes the need to rebel, to go into spiritual exile, to distance yourself from the system and not conform to it – by being a seeker, not a thoroughbread.”

    My sense is that education is about acquiring creds more as a social exchange wherein corporate entities, including academia, can trust that you’ve endured enough sheep training to qualify you for a lifetime appointment within the pre-existing system of like-minded sheep.

    Unfortunately, most, if not all businesses are so concerned with liabilities (here in the States anyway), that they buy into the notion that a degree is meaningful proof that you’ll be a better, more disciplined employee. It’s amazing to me how many Americans buy into this game, especially with the outrageous increase in costs and decrease in quality of so-called higher education.

    In light of that, I fully understand why my niece worked very hard in high school and undergraduate school to qualify for a Pell grant which gets her a free ride at Duke. She is a bio-engineering major, very smart and focused, who sincerely aims to work in cancer research. If you’re going to play, that would be the best way to do it.

    I kept my schooling to a minimum for fear of contaminating my natural instincts and pissing off the Daimon.

    Perhaps when academia prices themselves out of the game, some sanity may return, but I am not holding my breath. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Such a heartwarming comment, Debra – thank you. Unfortunately, I cannot say that I managed not to piss off my Daimon on occasion – quite the contrary, actually. But there were also beautiful moments of inspiration and ascension during my university years, for which I feel much gratitude. I understand what you are saying about your niece: her motives are pure and I hope she finds fulfillment.
      Much love


  5. litebeing says:

    Thought provoking as always. My mind has been on this general topic as I recently have been exploring giftedness and just finished Gifted Grownups. I do agree that conformity is on the menu, but I have to say that I adored all my higher educational experiences. I got 2 degrees at an average urban university and my last grad degree at (the Seven Sisters) Bryn Mawr College. Perhaps my fields of study lent it self to more self-exploration and critical thinking ( psychology and social work), or I just used school as a journey. I studied lots of sociology, religion, anthropology, women studies and all sorts of wonderful electives to submerge myself in. I adore the bucolic settings and old stone buildings and also enjoy visiting campuses as a tourist ( Princeton, Yale, Harvard). In fact, returning to school in my thirties brought me back to life. Luckily I have my writing now to keep my mind active.

    Today is the second time someone mentioned Harry Potter to me, hmmmm. Never read any of it, but your quote tickled my fancy. Imagination is key. Jung is right, ( isn”t he always?)

    Keep stirring the pot Monika, we love it!!


    • It is not a pot but a magic cauldron. 😉
      I share your enthusiasm about education – despite what I wrote in this post. Still, I think Deresiewicz and others I mentioned made a lot of valid points, which struck a deep chord with me.
      And yes – I delight in Harry Potter.
      Thank you for sharing the information about your educational experience – very interesting to me.


      • litebeing says:

        I feel too lazy to read the series. Will look to see if the first installment is on Cable 🙂

        And I do not disagree with your theme, just wanted to present an alternative perspective.



      • Oh I know you did not disagree. I have not seen all the movies yet. The written word is primary for me – I feel lazier when I have to watch something. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. lampmagician says:

    Reblogged this on lampmagician and commented:
    Very well done!


  7. Pingback: Education on Beauty | lampmagician

  8. You have made some very important points here, Monika. Great read- thank you !


  9. A most excellent post, Monika! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Mavis urwin says:

    Amazing post and comments. Thankyou. Rudolf Steiner had a great deal to say on education which still rings true today. Sadly, there are only a small number of schools around the world following his teachings but the students are richer for it.


  11. Mavis urwin says:

    Oh, forgot to add. I LOVE Harry Potter and J K Rowling’s mind. I wonder what kind of education she had? Fortunately no kind of ‘dumbing down’ of that creative and inspired mind could ever have had any effect, thankfully for all HP fans.


    • From Wikipedia: “In 1982, Rowling took the entrance exams for Oxford University but was not accepted and read for a BA in French and Classics at the University of Exeter.” Also: “Rowling later said that she based the character of Hermione Granger on herself when she was eleven.” She is one marvelous woman, I agree.


  12. A fascinating post and discussion. I agree we need to take the ‘ducat’ out of ‘education’ unless it is a more human gold and silver.

    Liked by 1 person

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