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Education And Enrichment Are Sisters, But Not Twins

When I take students to the Met and the Cloisters in New York, I try to avoid asking interesting questions. I do not initiate deep conversations. At the end of a long day of enjoying Rembrandt and Vermeer, I do not ask students to offer up reflections on what they have seen. I do not take students to New York to teach them anything. We go to New York to be enriched.

It is entirely unfair, I will grant, to make a sharp distinction between education and enrichment, but indulge me for a moment. When I refer to “education,” I mean the things of the classroom, the things which pertain to wisdom and knowledge, to facts and figures, Burke and Rousseau, lecture and discussion, tests and quizzes. Education is the basso continuo of the classroom. Education is read-and-discuss, put your name at the top, due on Monday. However, when I refer to “enrichment,” a very different series of words and images should come to mind.

Enrichment is not so much concerned with re-orienting the soul as with expanding the soul. Enrichment is museums and concert halls, but also poetry, cuisine, fashion, perfume, architecture, sport, games, etiquette. Both education and enrichment stage encounters with Truth, Beauty, and Goodness; however, in the classroom, Truth is monarch, and in the museum and concert hall, Beauty is monarch. The enrichment of the soul is the filling of the soul. As beauty fills the soul, the soul expands to receive more beauty. The expansion of the soul with beauty is the refinement of taste, but also the gracious stockpiling of love which will be philanthropically given away over a lifetime. Enrichment is not mere aestheticism, and, in the same way, education is not mere accumulation of knowledge. Knowledge and good taste are worthless if not married to pious intentions, to goodness. Education is the generous acquisition of knowledge, and enrichment is the generous acquisition of beauty. Education is bread and enrichment is butter. Education is the week, Enrichment is the Sabbath.

Of course, enrichment and education flow in and out of one another, and they are not at odds with one another. Enrichment and education are sisters, however, and both cannot be wooed in the same way, for they have different temperaments. Education is the more formal of the two. She is Elizabeth Bennet and does not suffer fools gladly. Enrichment is Jane Eyre the narrator, though not Jane the governess. Education prefers her Christmas presents come from England or Germany, while Enrichment likes something French or Italian. Education kisses on the cheek, Enrichment on the lips. Education sends handwritten letters to Apollo, but Enrichment has been leavened with profligacy— a profligacy she borrows from Beauty:

There is… an undeniable ethical offense in beauty: not only in its history as a preoccupation of privilege, the special concern of an economically and socially enfranchised elite, but in the very gratuity with which it offers itself. There is an unsettling prodigality about the beautiful, something wanton about the way it lavishes itself upon even the most atrocious of settings, its anodyne sweetness often seeming to make the most intolerable of circumstances bearable…

-David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, p. 16

The older sister cares for the younger, and so the younger learns the virtues of the older while maintaining her own autonomy. As the elder sister, Education must be married first. She is first in line for the crown, and a prudent teacher will keep this in mind when measuring out the time and resources he will employ in their respective honors.

Education is the primary task of the teacher, but he may not neglect Enrichment. Enrichment is superfluity, tangent. Enrichment is “Oh, God, taste this.” Enrichment is bonus, Christmas, runneth-overness. Education and Enrichment are sisters who, on occasion, tease one another about their idiosyncrasies, even while they remain the best of friends. Enrichment tends toward a certain volatility, a wild unpredictability. Education courageously goes to war, and Enrichment signs peace treaties with cerulean ink.

When I take my students to New York, Enrichment must have her day. Education has not been dismissed, but given a break from her labors. Enrichment begs students follow her as she runs from room to room in the Metropolitan, finally approaching with reverent awe John Singer Sargent’s “Portrait of Madame X.” Enrichment tells everyone to order something different on the menu and then “we can all trade bites.” Education is the interesting conversation the class has (weeks later) about moments of Enrichment, but the wise teacher will not rouse Education too soon from her rest.

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