The Reform of Public Schools

Mortimer J. Adler

[Reprinted from The Center Magazine of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, September-October 1983]

There are five related and widely prevalent errors in American education that The Paideia Proposal attempts to correct. The first error is to think that only some children are educable, even though all have a right to aspire to become truly educated human beings.

The second error is to suppose that the process of education is completed in our educational institutions during the years of basic schooling or even during the years of advanced schooling after that. Nothing could be further from the truth. Education never is completed in the school. Youth and immaturity are insuperable obstacles to becoming educated.

The third error is to suppose that teachers are the sole, primary, or principal causes of the learning that occurs in students. That is not the case. The primary cause of all learning - unless it be rote memory, which is not learning at all - is the activity of the student's mind. The best that the best teacher can do is to assist that activity.

The fourth error is probably at the heart of the matter, and the correction of this error is at the heart of The Paideia Proposal: the error is to suppose that there is only one kind of teaching and one kind of learning, the kind that consists in the teacher lecturing, or telling, and the students learning what they hear said or what they find in textbooks. That's the least important kind of learning and teaching. There are two much more important kinds of learning and teaching, and all three must be in basic schooling, from kindergarten through the twelfth grade.

Finally, there is the error of supposing that schooling - basic or advanced - is primarily a preparation for earning a living, and that it will not hold the attention of students unless that is manifestly so. Obviously one of the objectives of schooling is to prepare the young to earn a living, but that is the least important objective. One of the great troubles with our schools is that both teachers and parents make the mistake of thinking that job preparation is the primary objective.

My book, The Paideia Proposal, is dedicated to Horace Mann, John Dewey, and Robert Hutchins. To Horace Mann because in the middle of the last century he struggled valiantly to see that on the eastern seaboard the children had at least six years of free compulsory schooling. It turned out that six years became the rule well into this century. It is only in the last forty or fifty years that compulsory schooling has been extended to twelve years, but that in part is a debt we owe to Horace Mann.

To John Dewey because, in 1916, in his book Democracy and Education, Dewey put those two words together for the first time in history. By doing so, he showed that in our kind of society, all the children who go to school are destined to have the same kind of future; therefore, the objectives of schooling should be the same for all. They should all have exactly the same quality of schooling.

And to Robert Hutchins for a .single sentence that sums it all up: "The best education for the best is the best education for all." An extraordinary passage that Bob was fond of quoting came from John Amos Comenius in the year 1657:

"The education that I propose includes all that is proper for a man, and it is one in which all men who are born into this world should share. Our first wish is that all men be educated fully to full humanity. Not any one individual, not a few, or even many, but all men, together and singly, young and old, rich and poor, of high and lowly birth, men and women; in a word, all whose fate it is to be born human beings, so that at last the whole of the human race become educated, men of all ages, all conditions, both sexes, and all nations."

In the title of my book, paideia is the Greek word for general human learning; the Latin of paideia is humanitas. I mention that because one of the terrible errors in the world today, and particularly in America, is a misunderstanding of the meaning of humanities. People think that it denotes what is left over when you finish with the sciences. Humanities, humanitas, is strictly the equivalent of paideia, which means general, unspecialized, untechnical human learning.

The subtitle of the book describes it as "an educational manifesto." We used the word "manifesto" to echo the Communist Manifesto, because we are intending a revolution, and a revolution is nothing but a reversal in direction in any social institution. The quality of schooling has been declining for the last sixty years. We must start climbing back. The ideal is a goal to be aimed at and achieved by a series of cumulative steps in the right direction. "It will not be reached quickly. It may take twenty-five, thirty, even fifty years to produce the change we have in mind.

Now it is much easier, of course, to state principles and policies than to implement them. Therefore, the Paideia group has written a second book, Paideia Problems and Possibilities. It will be published in the fall of 1983. In the course of the last year, we have met with members of sixty or seventy educational organizations across the country. We have picked up more than fifty questions and problems which we state carefully and answer.

We are planning a third book, The Paideia Program, scheduled for publication in 1984. It will be a group of essays written by the members of the Paideia group. The first two have already been written: one on mathematics and the mechanical arts; the other on language and the language arts. Everything in the Paideia program, diagrammed on page 23 of The Paideia Proposal, will be commented on in detail in our third book.

All these will be short books like our 84-page first book. We decided that if the Communist Manifesto had been written in three hundred pages, there never would have been a revolution. Anyone who needs more than an hour to read it can't read. There is no jargon in it, no educationese, no pedagese. If I could have raised the money to do it, I would have liked to have dropped The Paideia Proposal from airplanes on the roofs of every house in the United States. Several things our proposal is not It is not a return to basics. Of course, we are concerned with skills, including the skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic. But we are concerned with much more than skills.

Our program is not a return to the classics, as that word is so often taken to mean, that is, simply going back to Greek and Roman antiquity. We are concerned with classics where the classics mean anything of enduring value.

Our program is also not just an appeal for an improvement in the quality of education for some students. It is an appeal for the improvement in quality for all, without any exception whatsoever. And, since it is for all, it is not elitist. People who call it elitist because it is dedicated to a high quality of education misuse the word elitist.

The first and most important distinguishing characteristic of The Paideia Proposal is that it takes democracy seriously. It takes seriously the commitment of the democratic society to the objective of a high quality of basic schooling for all children.

Most Americans do not know that democracy is not fifty years old. Democracy, properly defined in the modern sense as constitutional government, with true universal suffrage, and the securing of all natural or human rights, was not in existence at the beginning of this century. At that time women were still disfranchised, human rights were not secured, and economic rights were not even dreamed of.

It is therefore not surprising that we do not have a democratic system of education. We have instead an antidemocratic, or undemocratic, system of education, a holdover from the nineteenth century and the first years of this century. We have a two-track educational system. We separate the children into the sheep and the goats, and we do not give them the same quality of schooling. It is about time - now that democracy is just beginning to come into existence - that we try to create, over the next hundred years, a system of schooling that fits a democratic society.

Our proposal is also concerned not just with secondary schooling, but with all twelve years of compulsory schooling as an integrated unit. And in terms of all the developmental psychology we know, the best way to divide those twelve years is in two parts of six years each.

Another characteristic of our proposal is that, given the same objectives for all students, we must use the same means, which is a required curriculum, for all. The required curriculum calls for the elimination of all electives in the upper six years of schooling, with the exception of a choice of a second language to be mastered, and the elimination of all specialized job training throughout. The kind of vocational training that now goes on in schools is worse than useless; it is undemocratic in the extreme. As John Dewey observed in 1916 - and the situation is ten times worse today - vocational training is the training of slaves, not free men.

Our proposal does not prescribe the particulars of a curriculum for the whole country. It says there should be a required curriculum everywhere, but we have not defined that curriculum. It would be presumptuous to do that in a country as pluralistic as ours, with more than fifteen thousand separate autonomous school boards and/or school districts, each with the authority to determine what is to be studied in its own area. If we had a Ministry of Education in the United States as they have in France, you could do that. What we did instead is present a curricula framework, within which any sound curriculum must be constructed in different ways, in different school districts, to meet different populations under different circumstances.

Finally, our proposal regards basic schooling as preparation for continued learning, either in higher institutions or in adult life. To become an educated person is an accomplishment of one's mature years, after all schooling, basic or advanced, has been completed.

In sum, The Paideia Proposal calls for:

  • The same quality, hot just the same quantity, of schooling for all the children, so that all will have an equal educational opportunity.
  • The schooling must be general, not specialized; liberal, not vocational; humanistic, not technical; thus fulfilling the meaning of the words paideia and humanitas - the general learning that should be in the possession of every human being.
  • The objectives of basic schooling should be the same for all, because all have the same three elements in their future, as John Dewey pointed out: the demands of work; the duties of citizenship; and the obligation of each individual to make as much of himself or herself as possible.
  • These three common objectives can be achieved only by a completely required course of study, whose only elective is a second language. Incidentally, we are the only country in the world that does not require a second language in its basic schooling.
  • The curriculum of course of study must include three kinds of learning: acquisition of organized knowledge; development of the intellectual skills of learning; and an enlarged understanding of ideas and values. These three kinds of learning and the corresponding three kinds of teaching must be integrally related to one another.
  • Individual differences, especially inequalities in natural endowment and in nurtural environments from which the children come, call for compensatory efforts in the form of preschool tutoring for those who need it, and remedial or supplementary instruction for those who need that.
  • Every school must have a principal who is truly the principal teacher in that school, its educational leader, not merely its administrative or clerical head. We tend to forget that the word "principal" is an adjective. An adjective needs a noun. And the noun that goes with principal is teacher. It's the only thing that could possibly go with it. It's our American term for the British term headmaster. In Britain the teachers are masters, and the headmaster is the head teacher. A school without a principal is no school at all. I know that in every school there are clerical and administrative chores to be done; but let them be done by clerks working for the principal. The principal should be the educational leader of the school. Unless that is the case, I do not think you can have a real learning community.

Two important comments on the foregoing are in order. The first concerns the often misused words "liberal" and "humanistic." Liberal has had two uses traditionally. As an adjective for education, it meant nonvocational, that is, learning for the sake of learning itself. Vocational meant learning for the sake of earning. But that does not address the fact that carpentry, for example, may be a component of liberal schooling and liberal learning, if it is carpentry for the sake of acquiring the skill of thinking with one's hands and tools. If it is carpentry to earn a living, it is not liberal. Chemistry is liberal only if it is chemistry for the sake of learning that particular branch of the physical sciences. If it is chemistry to become a chemical engineer, it is not liberal.

The second meaning of the word liberal is as an adjective modifying arts. Liberal arts are not fine arts. The fine arts are totally useless; that is their glory. The liberal arts are useful. It is important that we not include under the liberal arts all the things they are not. When we refer to "liberal arts high schools" or "liberal arts colleges," we do not mean liberal arts as such. Any course, and any combination of elective courses of study, can be part of a liberal arts college curriculum. But the liberal arts themselves are the arts of the trivium and the quadrivium, which, in modern form, include reading, writing, speaking, listening, and all the mathematical arts and scientific skills. Those are the liberal arts. They are skills. Arts are skills. The Greek word techne is the word that names them all. Nevertheless, in America today there is a gross misuse of these terms. We speak of a "liberal arts curriculum" in which no liberal arts are taught at all, and in which most of the elective components in that curriculum are either not arts or skills, or if they are arts, they are literary and other fine arts, not liberal arts.

The same kind of misuse applies to the word "humanities." Humanistic learning is simply general, not specialized, learning. In the Greek lexicon, the distinction is between paideia, or general learning, and episteme, which is the knowledge of the scientist, the expert. In Latin, the distinction is between humanitas and scientia. Paideia is the root word in encyclopaedia; the meaning of encyclopaedia is the great circle of general learning. Paideia, or humanitas, in this traditional sense, includes mathematics, all the sciences - natural and social - just as much as it includes history, philosophy, and the fine arts. Anything that belongs to general human learning is humanities.

Now, when Robert Hutchins came to the University of Chicago, he did something which perpetuated this mistake. He's been forgiven for it, because it was in the air. He divided the university into four divisions. Three of these were the physical sciences, biological sciences, social sciences. What was left over he called the humanities. And it really was what was left over. But what was left over is no different from the other three subjects. The humanities at the University of Chicago, under Mr. Hutchins, included philology, history, philosophy. But these subjects were just as specialized and narrow in their scholarship as were the sciences in their specialized research. The humanities at Chicago was no more humanitas, in the sense of general learning, than physics and mathematics were. Humanities, as general learning, must include all the subject matters, not just some.

The curricula framework as diagrammed (see figure) is clear. Each of the three columns designates a kind of learning that must continue, in ascending difficulty, for the full thirteen years, that is, from kindergarten through grade twelve. The first column is the acquisition of organized knowledge in the basic fields of subject matter, which are language, literature and the fine arts, mathematics and the natural sciences, history, geography, and the study of social institutions. The kind of teaching, that assists, but only assists, this kind of learning is didactic teaching. It is teaching by telling, teaching by lecturing, teaching by textbook assignments and by examinations on those textbook assignments, teaching by class exercises and blackboard work. Unfortunately this least important kind of teaching is the only kind that most teachers do. It is the only kind that schools of education pay any attention to. They do not do this very well, but they do pay attention to it. They pay little or no attention to the other two kinds of teaching and learning.

Goals Acquisition of Organized Knowledge Development of Intellectual Skills -- Skills of Learning

by means of
Enlarged Understanding of Ideas and Values

by means of
Means Didactic Instruction, Lectures and Responses, Textbooks, and Other Aids

in three areas of subject matter
Coaching, Exercises, and Supervised Practice

in the operations of
Maieutic or Socratic Questioning and Active Participation

in the
Areas, Operations, and Activities Language, Literature, and The Fine Arts

Mathematics and Natural Science

History, Geography and Social Studies
Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening

Calculating, Problem Solving, Observing, Measuring, Estimating

Exercising Critical Judgment
Discussion of Books (not textbooks) and Other Works of Art and Involvement in Artistic, Activities, e.g., Music, Drama, Visual Arts

The second kind of learning and teaching (column 2) is the development of the intellectual skills. Now a skill, a techne, or an art - the three words mean the same thing - is a habit. You do not have an art except by having it through habit formation. This is true of all the bodily skills. Forget about the intellectual skills for the moment. Think of the skills that are taught in a gymnasium or on the playing field. What kind of teaching helps the formation of the habits which are these skills? It is coaching. You would not think of someone trying to teach another how to play basketball or how to swim by lecturing that person. You need a coach, a fellow who says, don't do it this way, do it that way; stop putting your right foot forward when you should put your left foot forward; keep your eye on the ball; throw your shoulder back. Whatever it is you are doing, you must do it over and over and over again under a coach's eye until you form the correct habit. Coaching is the only way that skills - intellectual or physical - can be formed. And it only can be done with a coach with four or five trainees, not thirty or forty, at one time. You could not do this coaching in a million years with thirty students.

Now, since schools of education do not prepare our teachers to coach, and since they have classrooms and curricular arrangements in which coaching cannot be done, our children do not learn how to read, write, speak, listen, or how to do the mathematical or scientific operations well. They never will be able to do these things if they are not coached. These skills can be developed in no other way. We have to get coaching back into the skills in the schools. Coaching is ten times more important than the acquisition of organized knowledge (column 1) which most people forget anyway. I regard myself as an educated human being, and I have forgotten almost everything I learned in school as described in column 1 of the diagram. But I have not forgotten the skills I formed. They have remained with me all my life, and I have improved them. The first kind of learning is evanescent; the other two kinds are permanent.

The third column is even more important than the second. The first column is knowing that; the second is knowing how; the third is knowing why. The enlargement of the understanding of basic ideas and values cannot be done by didactic teaching, and it cannot be done by coaching. It must be done by discussion, by the Socratic method of asking questions in seminars that run for two hours, in which the things discussed are books, not textbooks. No one can discuss a textbook. You have to have books that are readable and discussable, that deal with ideas and values. And you have to have other works of art that enhance those values. These are almost absent from the schools today.

The great joke is that the only place in the school system where this kind of teaching and learning goes on today is kindergarten. The kindergarten teacher does sit on the floor with her students. They sit in a circle, and she tells them a story or a fable. They ask questions, and they enjoy it. That kind of teaching persists a short while in the first grade. But by the time the children get to the second grade, it stops. So what should persist through the whole twelve years is almost entirely absent in our schools.

There is an organic or biological analogue of this. For our Me, for our body's health and vitality, we need three nutriments: fats, carbohydrates, and proteins; and we need them in a certain balance or proportion. One can imagine what our body would be like if we had a diet solely of fats. Well, our schooling is that kind of diet. It consists almost solely of column 1 teaching, and unassimilated at that. It is teaching and learning that is unalloyed by the "carbohydrates" and "proteins" found in the second and third columns.

The three columns are diagrammed in two dimensions as if they were separate; but all the work we have done indicates that in a properly constructed curriculum, these three kinds of learning and teaching are organically related to each other. Our teachers are totally untrained for the third kind of teaching. They may have a bit of training for the column 2 kind of teaching, coaching. They have none of the third kind, which enlarges understanding. It is only the rare gifted teacher who does it at all, and then not because of anything that he or she learned in a school or department of education.

In addition to the threefold course of study which runs through twelve years, there are three auxiliaries: twelve years of physical education; six years of manual training, including cooking, sewing, typing, machine repair - all the manual skills - not for any vocational purpose, but because learning how to do things with one's hands is just as much a matter of mental agility as learning how to do things with words; and, in the last two years, a general - I emphasize the word general - introduction to the world of work.

A comment on this last point is in order. Vocational training, as it is now conducted, is worse than useless, but it will also be terrifyingly wrong, because ten years from now, computers and robots will be doing most of the unskilled and semiskilled work. Computers will direct robots and will program other computers.

The only kind of preparation for work that makes any sense is schooling in the liberal arts, the intellectual skills, the skills of judgment, the skills that help a child to learn how to adapt to learning whatever he or she needs to learn in life. That is the only proper preparation for the world of work. It is not preparation for a particular job; that kind of training goes back to the guild system when the children of glassblowers became glassblowers, the children of metalworkers became metalworkers, and so on. It is not only undemocratic to narrow a child's future to any particular slot, it is also foolish, since most of those slots will disappear anyway.

We haven't begun to think of what is involved in preparation for work over the next ten, fifteen, or twenty years. Our country, as everyone is beginning to realize, needs radical reorganization of our industrial life. We can no longer compete in the world economy with a nineteenth-century model of industry. Those jobs are gone forever.

That is the Paideia Proposal for the kindergarten and then the next twelve years of schooling. Obviously some children will go on to advanced schooling, some to college, some to universities. But all children must be prepared to continue learning throughout their adult life, whether they go on to college or university or not.

There are implications in the proposal for our colleges and universities, which are in a bad state on both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The members of the Paideia group, many of whom are college presidents or deans, have given up on the colleges, as did Robert Hutchins fifty years ago. It took Mr. Hutchins from 1930 to 1943 to create what I would say is a general college at the University of Chicago, a college devoted entirely to general liberal learning. In 1943, we had a completely required college curriculum at the University of Chicago. That was so radical that it almost brought on a faculty revolt. Indeed, it was so radical that within twelve months of Mr. Hutchins' leaving the university to join the Ford Foundation, members of the graduate school undid the whole thing. Our colleges and universities are under the control of the graduate schools which are specialists' schools. They are not interested in general education at all. They are interested in research in their specialties.

To create a good college, Robert Hutchins made the college faculty an autonomous ruling body of the University of Chicago. This faculty was in no way responsible to the graduate school. There were appointments to the college faculty, promotions within the college faculty, salaries determined by the college faculty, curriculum developed by the college faculty, all this independent of the graduate school. In short, the college became autonomous, because that was the only way you could make a good college of the University of Chicago. But, as I say, within twelve months of Robert Hutchins' leaving, that program and setup were dismantled, and the college of the University of Chicago became like any other college anyplace else. The only college in the country that Hutchins and I had anything to do with that still persists as a college in which general liberal humanistic learning is required for four years is St. John's College at Annapolis, Maryland, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

There are no departments at St. John's College. There are no professors. Every member of the faculty must teach the whole curriculum. That is the only way you can make it work. That is the ideal.

St. John's College has been in existence since 1937. It has never enrolled much more than 380 or 390 students. Why? Why has general education at Chicago been thrust aside; why has it been thrust aside at Harvard? Why was Hutchins' general education at Chicago undone? The answer to that is also one of the reasons for the Paideia Proposal. Today, college comes too late in a young person's life. The years of the young in college are eighteen to twenty-two. That is too close to the time when one leaves home, gets married, earns a living. Asking the young or their parents, under those circumstances, to subscribe to four years of general, unspecialized, unvocational education, an education that does not directly prepare for any profession, will, of course, be resisted and rejected. And it probably should be that way.

So we decided that if we are going to have general human learning in this country, it has to be accomplished in the first twelve years of compulsory schooling.

That program is right for another reason; namely, that that is the only schooling that is common to all children. Learning should be common to all, and it should occur in schooling that is common to all - grades kindergarten through twelve - not in college, which is for less than half the population.

Now, agreed that colleges will continue to be specialized and departmentalized, that their catalogues will continue to be crammed with elective courses - Harvard alone has four thousand courses in its catalogue! - let all that stand. The Paideia group says, if we have the paideia pre-college schools underneath, let's at least have some continuation of general, liberal, humanistic learning at the college level. The proposal - it is only a proposal- that I have made, at the invitation of a number of college presidents, to their faculties, is, keep your catalogue and all your elective majors, but have just one minor for all four years, something which all students will be required to take. That minor, in the form of a seminar, will consist of the reading and discussion of books and the discussion of works of art. When I propose that to college faculties, they smile indulgently, until I make the next statement, which is that this will work only if all members of the faculty lead these seminars. At that point they throw their hands up. "You can't expect us to do that. What books would you have?" I name a book. "Oh, that isn't in my field." That is the statement that ruins everything: "That book isn't in my field." Sure, the students can read it. because they do not have any fields. But the faculty cannot, because they've got fields. You cannot get a college faculty in this country to undertake such seminars with students.

Another demon we must exorcise is the Ph.D. degree. The Ph.D. degree has no ancient lineage. There were no Ph.D.'s in the medieval universities. They had only four degrees. One was the teaching degree, the master of arts. The master was strictly a teacher, and he taught the same arts that the students were to learn, the liberal arts. The other three degrees were professional in nature: doctor of law, doctor of medicine, and doctor of theology.

Eventually there grew up in the nineteenth-century German universities research in the fields of science, the humanities, philology, and history. The German universities wanted to recognize these new specializations just as law, medicine, and theology had been recognized. Again, humanities was the name for whatever was left over after you accounted for the natural and social sciences, and in Germany the humanities teachers were called the faculty of philosophy. So the degree was called "doctor of philosophy," but it had nothing at all to do with philosophy.

Today there isn't an actual doctor of philosophy in our country. There may be a few in the departments of philosophy, but for the most part they, too, are not philosophers. We don't refer to someone as a "doctor of philosophy"; we say "doctor of philosophy in education," or "doctor of philosophy in physics," or "doctor of philosophy in engineering," or accounting. Today you can be a doctor of philosophy in anything.

The meaning of the Ph.D. degree in the German universities was, in the beginning, acceptable, because it meant a degree that signified the accomplishment of specialized research in a given field like philology or history or mathematics. It did not mean a degree that prepared anyone to teach. It had nothing to do with teaching. The great teachers in Germany were the teachers in the humanistic gymnasium, and those were not Ph.D.'s. They shouldn't have been Ph.D.'s. At Oxford and Cambridge universities, well into this century, the highest degree, other than the professional degrees, was the .master's, as it should be. Finally Oxford and Cambridge yielded. And, of course, the American universities slavishly imitated the Germans, but with a difference. The American universities came to regard the Ph.D. degree as a certificate for a teacher. That is why our college faculties are staffed today with Ph.D.'s. One of the great letters in all of American literature is William James' letter to the president of Bryn Mawr College who had refused to hire James' best student to teach philosophy because the student did not have a Ph.D. James' letter became the classic little essay entitled "The Ph.D. Octopus."

We ought to restructure the whole thing. We ought to have a "Sc.D." which would stand for doctor of science, and doctor of scholarship, and use that in place of the Ph.D., for all graduate degrees other than law, medicine, and theology, which are research degrees. The Sc.D. would not signify a teacher at all. If we want to signify someone who is prepared to teach, and since the master of arts degree no longer means that, let us resuscitate the old degree (now an honorary degree) of L.H.D., doctor of humane letters. That would be for the teacher of general, liberal, humanistic studies.

Then let us require - for the sake of our culture, if nothing else - that all Sc.D.'s and all L.H.D.'s should also be Ph.D.'s in the proper meaning of Ph.D., that is, doctors of philosophy, meaning that they must have some acquaintance with the fundamental ideas and values of our civilization. Let them be philosophical experts and philosophical teachers in the sense in which both John Stuart Mill in his famous address as rector of St. Andrew's and Cardinal Newman in his Idea of a University meant philosophy, not in its narrow sense as in our philosophy departments today, but in its general sense.

What we are saying is that everyone should be a generalist first and a specialist second.

Robert Hutchins never tired of saying that the university should be a community of learning, a community of scholars. But how can we say a university is a community when students and teachers have nothing in common? You can go to every college in the country at graduation time and ask this question of the seniors: What one book have all of you read in the last four years and discussed with one another? To which there would be no answer at all. No answer, not even in the Catholic colleges. All may have read certain textbooks, but not one book. So it is ridiculous to think of the university as an intellectual community today.

This is a serious matter that goes beyond the education of the young, if it continues. The man who called the shots on that is Jose Ortega y Gasset. I recommend to you, as the most important educational document in the twentieth century, his Revolt of the Masses, particularly chapter 12, "The Barbarism of Specialization." That was written in 1930, What Ortega describes there is true to a much more intense degree today.

The ideal of a truly educated human being, something to which every child has a natural right to aspire, is in some degree attainable only at the end of life, in the ripeness of maturity, certainly not much before one reaches the age of fifty or sixty. There is such a thing as terminal schooling. But education is for a lifetime. We can give certificates, diplomas, and degrees to signify the completion of schooling. The only thing that signifies the completion of education is a death certificate.