©2000 NewFoundations

The Educational Theory of Robert M. Hutchins (Version I)
Analyst 1: Beth McGettigan
Analyst 2: Joseph Messina

Link to Version II

edited 8/18/11

I. Theory of Value What Knowledge and Skills are worthwhile learning? What are the goals of education?

Ideal education is one that develops intellectual power. It is not one that is directed to immediate needs; it is not a specialized education, or a pre-professional education; It is not a utilitarian education. It is an education calculated to develop the mind. I have old fashioned prejudices in favor of the three R's and the liberal arts, in favor of trying to understand the greatest works that the human race has produced. (IRE192)

...without the intellectual techniques needed to understand ideas, and without at least an acquaintance with the major ideas that have animated mankind since the dawn of history, no man may call himself educated (IRE193)

...education should concentrate on developing the rational faculty (EF93), children should be taught certain basic subjects that will acquaint them with the world's permanencies, both spiritual and physical (EF93), "Great Books" (EF93), The chief purpose of education is to cultivate the use of reason. (EF95),

Education is not an imitation of life but a preparation for life. (EF95), English, languages, history, mathematics, the natural sciences, the fine arts, and philosophy (EF96),

...it is self evident that subjects that require maturity cannot be taught to the immature (LS101), liberal education (GB22)

Leaming at the elementary level should consist of the basic fundamentals such as reading, writing and arithmetic to enable educational pursuit later in life. (Dzuback, 85).

I have assumed that the duty of an educator is to change things from the way they are to the way they ought to be. (Dzuback, IX).

The purpose of higher education is to unsettle the minds of young men, to widen their horizons, to inflame their intellects. (Hutchins, 1936, 48).

The faculty dealing with general education must be independent of and, perhaps, isolated from the university. (Hutchins, 1936, 10).

The purpose of the University is nothing less than to procure a moral, intellectual and spiritual revolution throughout the world. (Dzuback, 196)

II. Theory of Knowledge. How is it different from belief? What is a mistake? A lie?

Knowledge is everywhere the same. (If it where not, learned men never could sit down together and agree upon anything.)(EF94), To acquire knowledge is the essence of education. (EF94),

There is no virtue in encouraging immature minds to waste time in discovering for themselves the kind of knowledge that they can can be taught in a few minutes. (EF94), knowledge is not fragmented but unified, since reality itself, which it reflects, is a whole. (EF54), Opinion, of course, is different; here men may disagree. But when they do agree, opinion becomes knowledge. (FE95)

One can only determine truth by faith in human reason which must come to him by Grace. (Dzuback, 214.)

The social scientists have little or no training in the precise thinking and expression required by logic, mathematics, and physics, their work is a mess. (Dzuback, 95)

The single-minded pursuit of intellectual virtues is to be sharply distinguished from scholarship. (Hutchins, 1936, 32).

III. Theory of Human Nature

The function of man as man is the same in every society, since it results from his nature as a man. (EF94) The aim of the educational system is the same in every age and in every society where such a system can exist; it is to improve a man as a

man.(CT42) What is distinctly human in man remains the same everywhere(EF93) human nature is constant(EF93)

Since rationality is man's highest attribute, he must use it to direct his instinctual nature in accordance with deliberately chosen ends. Men are free, not determined.(EF94) the universality of human nature is revealed most clearly in literature and history(EF94)

it is his (man's) duty to live by reason and to control the rebelliousness of his instincts. Intelligent self restraint is as important as freedom of expression(EF95)

Rationality may be innate in him, but it also must be educated in order to be used.(EF95)

Human nature does not change but remains essentially the same; so also, do the good life, that is, the life most fit for men to lead, the moral principles that men should observe, and the education that they should receive.(EF93)

The nature of man indicates that he can continue to learn all his life; the scientific evidence shows that he has the capacity to do so.(LS130)

By ordinary mammalian standards he (homo sapiens) is born at least a year to soon. The infant whale is twenty feet long and ready to bound over the billows. The human being has to spend a year or more creeping before he can assume  the posture if he is to realize his potentialities, he must learn and relearn all his life long.(LS90)

Human nature has never changed (Adler, 53).

We should offer preparation for life in the broad sense of completeness as a human being. (Hutchins, 1936,116)

IV. Theory of Learning

If memories fail, they must be strengthened through drill and repetition.(EF94)

...are best studied in what perrenialists call the "Great Books"(EF93)

Education should seek to adjust the individual, not to the world as such, but to what is true. Adjustment to truth is the end of learning.(EF95)

Since the basic truths taught by education are recorded in these writings, the methods of education will be primarily verbal.(EF97)

Studying these works, the student learns the ideas that have shaped the human mind.(EF96)

Yet, in allowing the child's superficial inclinations to determine what he learns, we actually hinder him from developing his real talents.(EF97)

The approach is to read and discuss the great works of great thinkers, which, in turn, should discipline the mind and cultivate the intellect.(CT43) Wisdom must begin with learning.(LS90)

Learning at the college level should have no vocational aim. It should provide a common stock of fundamental ideas. (Hutchins, 1936, 116).

The development of human intellectual virtues is a means to cultivate correctness in thinking leading to the learning of what intelligent action is. (Dzuback, 106)

Educational standards, no matter how scientific, are culturally derived. (Hutchins, 1968)

V. Theory of Transmission

Education implies teaching. Teaching implies knowledge. Knowledge is truth. The truth is everywhere the same. Hence, education should be everywhere the same.(EF95)

Occupational training is best left to the practitioners of the occupations.(EF96)

Their education fosters a common curriculum, usually liberal arts, and offers little or no opportunity for students to choose electives related to their interests or goals.(CT43)

By studying the great ideas of the past, one can better cope with the future.(CT43)

Teacher helps student think rationally.(CT62)

Admittedly, a great teacher can start anywhere, with anything, as Plato started with old men's dances in the Laws He can emerge, as Plato did, with the most profound reflections.(EF91)

Students should be reading the Great Books. Knowledge of most topics to be learned is contained and taught through these books. (Adler, 72)

Great Books are the classics that have withstood the test of time, as distinct from text books and books without lasting significance. (Adler, 18)

The is no single form of instruction that can reach all equally. (Dzuback, 28 1)

VI. Theory of Society

The family, the neighborhood, the community, the the state, the media of communication, and the great number of voluntary to which a human being may belong all take part, fortuitously, or by design, in making him what he is.school never can be a "real-life situation" or animitation of society - nor should it be. It is a real and valuableinstitution; nevertheless, it remains for the child an artificialsituation...(LS95)

"The educational system does not, I think, have quite the influence on the formation of character that is commonly supposed. The family is the place in which moral training is given."(IRE195)

... the aim of a democratic society. It is not necessary that we should agree. But it is necessary that we should explain ourselves to one another.(IRE199)

.reject the view that the school should instill in its pupils the desire for social reform. It is not the schools's duty to win them over to a particular political program. Democracy will progress because people are educated and not because they have been taught to agitate for social reform.(EF95)

The emergence of democracy as an ideal society can be traced to the liberal education beginning with the Greeks. (Dzuback, 22 1).

To advance the happiness and well-being of the community we need to focus on the needs of the majority rather than on those of the powerful few. (Dzuback, 104)

Too many policies are guided by the love of money including the university's accommodation of practices to the wishes of donors, students and state legislatures instead of its own self-defined mission. (Dzuback, 18)

VII. Theory of Opportunity

When everything is said and done, the ultimate reason for liberal education for all is that everybody deserves the chance to be human. (LS90)

.what is distinctly human in man remains the same everywhere. Hence, education should be the same for everyone.(EF93)

If some children take longer to learn than others, we must not for this reason dilute the intellectual quality of education but, rather, devote more time and effort to helping slow learners acquire the same kind of knowledge obtained by their peers, even if they have to go to school on Saturdays.(EF94) But if everybody is to go to school, some school must welcome him. If everybody is to be educated, the school must in some manner hold on to and interest him.(LS11)

The evidence is that every child who has not sustained some damage to his brain can learn the basic subjects.(LS12) In education, when little is expected little is achieved. The teacher who is unlikely to have been brought up in the slums, will not expect much from children from such neighborhoods ... the prophesy is self-fulfilling.(LS15)

The lack of "ability" ability among the poor that is everywhere lamented is a consequence of the conditions under which they are brought up The school cannot compete with or remedy these conditions.(LS18)

A University should not discriminate by race. (Hutchins, 1936, 142)

A university cannot talk about the limitations of social tolerance. A university is supposed to lead, not to follow. A university is supposed to do what is right, and damn the consequences. As long as we are a university and not a club, we cannot invoke racial distinctions as a basis for the selection of our students. (Dzuback, 144)

Women participate extensively in the political,m social, and intellectual debates on campus. (Dzuback, 147).

The ideal university is an understood diversity. (Dzuback, 190)

Grouping children according to standardized tests is a means of perpetuating poverty and racial discrimination. (Hutchins, 1968, 263).

VIII. Theory of Consensus

This in a sentence or two is the aim of a democratic society. It is not necessary that we should agree. But it is necessary that we should explain ourselves to one another.(IRE199)

Opinion, of course, is different, here men may disagree. But when they do agree, opinion becomes knowledge.(EF94)

... Hutchins championed freedom of thought. He believed that controversy is the heart of education and that educational institutions should develop patterns of genuine autonomy. Like Jefferson, Hutchins emphasized the importance of discussion so that political decisions can be made on the basis of rationality, rather than persuasion.(IRE192)

To bring order to the chaos of the modem world requires not the teaching of facts by rational inquiry and discussion. (Dzuback, 106)

Opinion, of course, is different, here men may disagree. But when they do agree, opinion becomes knowledge.(Dzuback, 81)


Adler,M.J. (1982), Robert M. Hutchins: A Personal Memoir. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Fernandez, A.B. (2000). The Hutchins College is Alive and Well in Waukegan., The University of Chicago [On-Line], http://www.universityofchicago.com

Dzuback, M.A.(1991), Robert M. Hutchins. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press

GB Hutchins, Robert M., Great Books, Simon and Schuster, Inc. 1954

LS Hutchins, Robert M., The Learning Society, Frederick A.Praeger, Inc., 1968

Hutchins, R.M. CT: Yale, 1936. 1936). The Higher Learning in America. New Haven,

Hutchins, R.M. and Adler, M.J. (1953). The Great Book World. Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica.

Hutchins, R.M. (1968). The Learning Society Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

EF Kneller, George F., Foundations of Education John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1963

IRE Mayer, Frederick, Introductory Readings in Education, Dickenson Publishing Co., Inc., 1966

CT Ornstein, Allan C. & Hunkins, Francis, Curriculum Foundations. Principles. and Theory, Allyn & Bacon, 1993