The Crisis of Western Education, originally published in 1961, served as a capstone of Christopher Dawson's thought on the Western educational system. Long out of print, the book has now been updated with a new introduction by Glenn W. Olsen and is included in the ongoing Works of Christopher Dawson series. In all of his writings, Dawson masterfully brings various disciplinary perspectives and historical sources into a complex unity of expression and applies them to concrete conditions of modern society.
Dawson argued that Western culture had become increasingly defined by a set of economic and political preoccupations ultimately hostile to its larger spiritual end. Inevitably, its educational systems also became increasingly technological and pragmatic, undermining the long standing emphasis on liberal learning and spiritual reflection which were hallmarks of the Christian humanism that created it.
In this important work on the Western educational system, Dawson traces the history of these developments and argues that Western civilization can only be saved by redirecting its entire educational system from its increasing vocationalism and specialization. He insists that the Christian college must be the cornerstone of such an educational reform. However, he argued that this redirection would require a much more organic and comprehensive study of the living Christian tradition than had been attempted in the past.
Dawson had reservations about educational initiatives that had been developed in response to this crisis of education. Among them, he expressed doubts about newly emerging great books programs fearing that they would reduce the great tradition of a living culture to a set of central texts or great ideas. In contrast, he insisted that a Christian education had to be concerned with "how spiritual forces are transmitted and how they change culture, often in unexpected ways." This would require an understanding of the living and vital character of culture. As Dawson saw it, "culture is essentially a network of relations, and it is only by studying a number of personalities that you can trace this network." Dawson offers a diagnosis of modern education and proposes the retrieval of an organic and living culture which alone has the power to renew Western culture.
"There are a handful of books that I wish I could get colleagues in the field of education to read, and this is one of them. The reissuing of Dawson's accessible The Crisis of Western Education (originally published 1961) is still relevant and, sadly, still being ignored. Dawson's insights are masterfully presented by his unusual use of the tools of sociology, cultural history, and religious studies... Most impressively, throughout the work Dawson, better than most, defines and chronicles the process of secularization in the West and its influence, especially within education... This helpful and insightful book is a unique blend of cultural history, philosophy, and deeply informed Christian thinking about the flow of Western history and what has happened to education within that heritage."~Journal of Education and Christian Belief