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Letter: History shows that higher learning doesn't involve weapons

Posted: March 28, 2014 - 12:00am

A long process has been undertaken through human history to develop and realize the idea of the university. Our best minds contributed to this very human dream.

Extending back to Plato’s Academy, Aristotle’s Lyceum in Athens and Hypatia’s Museum in Alexandria, we find genuine concerns about how to acquire and disseminate knowledge to future generations. Later, toward the end of the eighth century C.E., Alcuin, an Anglo-Saxon monk from York, accepted the invitation of Charlemagne to come to Cologne and establish an educational facility for his subjects.

Alcuin helped lay a foundation for educating Europe, thereby creating an institutional system recognizable today. He offered his model of the seven liberal arts as a base for the educational reforms. This model consisted of the Pythagorean Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy) and the Sophists’ Trivium (grammar, logic and rhetoric). In due course of time, this configuration became a reformed and extended blueprint for the modern idea of the university.

This has long been the standard core structure throughout the world. Next to this simple curriculum, we have highly specialized and seemingly independent disciplines designed to expand human knowledge. Though fashionable, this fragmented approach is not always helpful in acquiring wisdom or understanding the interrelationship between and among diverse fields of inquiry. But that’s a topic for another time.

In examining this 2,500-year discourse on how best to organize and disseminate human knowledge, I have not found one single example of a significant discussion concerning the role of a weapon, whether it be a stone, arrow, knife, spear, sword or a gun in the educational process. On the contrary, historical documents show that the universities of the so-called “violent” medieval and early modern periods consistently enforced a policy that prohibited any “bellicose” weapon or arms on their premises. It seems that the participants concerned themselves more with broadening students’ minds and opportunities. In short, they focused on more serious and pressing issues.

Shouldn’t we also?

Rudy Krejci

Professor Emeritus

University of Alaska Fairbanks (1960-1997)

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