Book by Kronman, Anthony T
Review by Julie Givans,
College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona

Those who thought they were the last alive who still believed that a liberal arts education is valuable for its own sake will find reassurance in Anthony Kronman’s Education’s End: Why our colleges and universities have given up on the meaning of life. Although not an “easy read”, Education’s End should be of interest to advisors who work with liberal arts students or those who earned degrees in the liberal arts. The author takes the stance that a college education should teach students more than academic subjects; it should engage them in a structured examination into the very personal question of what makes life worthwhile. Kronman’s book chronicles how the rise of the research ideal and the advent of political correctness led universities, and humanities faculty in particular, to slowly surrender their authority to engage students in questioning the meaning of life.  

The subject is compelling and his explanation well constructed. Kronman begins with a philosophical look at the question of the meaning of life, explaining why this question is universal, yet the answer so personal. Then, step-by-step, Kronman details how history, culture and the research ideal have led universities away from engaging students in the study of this question.  Each point builds on the last, creating a logical argument that supports the thesis. Key points are repeated more than once to assist understanding. While some readers may find this repetitive, it is quite helpful in clarifying some of the more abstract concepts introduced.

Although reading is occasionally slow going, readers interested in philosophy, humanities, and the liberal arts will be rewarded. Discussions of theoretical concepts such as the evolution of secular humanism, the German notion of Bildung, or the relative merits of Western versus non-Western contributions to civilization, for example, will remind the reader, for good or ill, of their school days. The reward, though, is that Education’s End stimulates critical thinking. It is a book that will stick with the reader, even after the book is back on the shelf. Kronman explores ideas that will prompt discussion among colleagues and friends; the book would be an excellent starting point for conceptual development training for liberal arts advisors.  

Readers looking for a light read or for “how-to” information on advising will be disappointed. This is not a book about academic advising.  However, a critical reader will begin to find connections between Kronman’s observations on what is meaningful about education and what liberal arts advisors can teach their students. For example, near the end of the book, Kronman refers to the freedom that modern students have to select courses, which causes many to graduate with “a transcript that is a patchwork of disconnected bits and scraps,” (p 246) rather than a coherent set of courses that would systematically expose them to ways of exploring the meaning of life. While such an observation is clearly related to curriculum, it also comments on what advisors can do to enhance the value of each student’s education.

In sum, Education’s End is a book for thinkers. Readers looking for practical advice on how to be an academic advisor should look elsewhere. But for the reader who enjoyed her own liberal arts education or who wants to explore the meaning and value of a liberal arts education, it is a delight.

Education’s End: Why our colleges and universities have given up on the meaning of life. (2007). Book by Kronman, Anthony T. Review by Julie Givans. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 320 pp. Price $27.50. ISBN # 978-0-300-12288-6
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