The Elective System: Giving Ignorance a Voice in Education

Because man is viewed as having only an animal career and not a human destiny, interest and adjustment have taken the place of discipline and cultivation as the watchwords of educational policy. The whole aim of education changes, for adjustment lead to the cult of success, the “ideal” of getting ahead by beating your neighbor. The emphasis on the interests of the student makes him a buyer instead of a patient, and the teacher becomes a salesman rather than a doctor prescribing the cure for ignorance and incompetence. It is the student who is the master under the elective system, which was invented because of the excessive proliferation of scientific courses in the curriculum, and has been perpetuated by the perversion of educational policy which makes the young, i.e., the relatively ignorant and incompetent, choose their own road to learning, according to the fickle interests of their immaturity. Extracurricular activities originated in response to interests that were tangential to the main business of education, but in many schools they have become the curriculum, and the substantial studies have been thrown out. They are not even extracurricular. Many college curriculums offer courses A to Z without discrimination; and the university, instead of being a hierarchy of studies and a community of scholars, is a collection of specialists, together only in geographical proximity.

Mortimer J. Adler, Reforming Education, p. 77 (emphasis added)