Education does not simply mean passing little examination or being equipped to earn one’s livelihood. Education means the unfolding of the mind by means of methodical instructions in various branches of learning. Examination is of no use if they do not serve this end. An educated man does not simply know a few facts, he knows himself and his place in the world, he sees every detail of life, not as an accident of isolated phenomenon, but as a part of a whole.
What part then, does literature play in training and equipping of the mind and formation of character? In every civilized country we have two types of education nowadays viz., liberal and vocational. The former serves the real end of education; it ‘induces’ the faculties of the human mind, whereas the latter gives some specialized training wherewith we may earn our live hood university is good enough for any kind of clerkship, either in the government office or in the merchant office or in the factory. Unfortunately for India our education is so ‘liberal’ and literary that there is widespread reaction against the study of literature and people talk of its futility everywhere. The fact is, in India we have mainly this liberal education. Hence, B.A or M.A degree has very little market value. So people attack liberal education, hence literature. That is however a wrong point of view. When we consider the place of literature in education we should not think of the market value of literature. We should consider how far literature trains and disciplines, forms and unfolds the mind. This process which is known as education may not give us a clerkship or enable us to earn our livelihood in other ways; buts an end itself.
If we look at the curriculum of any Indian or foreign university, we shall find that literature figures prominently in it. Not only are the classics-ancient and modern- of a particular nation studied, foreign literature and classics are also studied with care. What does the study of literature do for us? How does it educate us?
Literature has been defined as “an expression of life through the medium of language”. Literature and life are vitally connected. We become aware of the mystery, vastness, multiplicity, beauty and pain of life through literature. It is not possible for us to experience every thing in our life, though learning by experience is no doubt a good think. Literature is the store-house of the experiences of so many master minds of all ages and generations. Thus the study of literature is not an idle pastime. It enables us to understand life deeply. The eminently practical ploughman or mechanic who has never studied literature is not educated in the right sense of the term. He knows his duties all right, but he hardly appreciates the beauty of nature, the goodness of life or the thousand subtle appeals of the world of eye and ear, and of human emotions and feelings. Thus literature educates us to know life in its fullness and multiplicity and mystery.
But literature has emotional and aesthetic values which history, philosophy and sciences do not posses. An educated man, in our sense of term, should not only know things, he must also feel things and enjoy things. He is expected to take an intelligent interest in everything; but the faculties of feeling and emotion must also be properly educated, and he must have that keenness of aesthetic perception which makes flowers beautiful and pictures immortal. The study of literature trains these faculties of the mind as nothing else can. Books like the French Revolution of Carly, the Greater Tragedies of Shakespeare.
The Meghdoot of Kalidas, Less Miserable of Hugo to mention few master piece in a haphazard manner, teach us much more than ‘all the sages can’ They touch so many chords and enrich our inner life.
The cultural value of the study of literature is great. It leads to the refinement and subtlety of perception, depth of insight, and broadness of outlook. Generations of men in Europe have been brought up on Homer’s epic. If we eliminate them, the culture of Europe will suffer a distinct loss, though these epics portray a primitive state of society. Think of the epics of India. They are the repositories of Indian Culture. If we do not study our nation literature, we cannot understand our nation culture and genius.
It has been suggested by short-sighted critics that the study of literature produces an emasculating effect and it makes us unfit for the struggle for existence. It is perfectly true that a lawyer who studies Firdusi only is not likely to prove a successful lawyer; it is also true that a doctor cannot know much of the human anatomy of therapeutics out of Shakespeare. But that is only making the wrong kind of demand. The study of literatures does not fit us out for any particular profession. It does not give us that specialized knowledge which a lawyer or a doctor requires. But the study of literature trains our mind and makes us fit for all understandings. Refinement of perception, depth of insight, sureness of grasp, keenness of appreciation, these are necessary or essential in all professions. If we make a gross utilitarian demand from literature, here is the answer. That is why in the western countries even mechanics and engineers have to study literature in the lower classes. Even in commerce colleges the study of literature is not neglected. Thus literature occupies and ought to occupy a prominent place in education.