John Gray in The Guardian:
Beautifully produced by New York Review Books in a new translation, by Damion Searls, with an illuminating introduction, Anti-Education consists of five lectures Nietzsche gave at the Basel city museum in 1872. (A sixth lecture was planned, but never delivered; portions of the series were used in his book Untimely Meditations.) Presenting his critique in the form of a series of dialogues between an old philosopher and a student companion, Nietzsche argues that education (he uses the German word Bildung, a term with multiple senses but that broadly means the formation of culture and individual character) has been degraded by being subordinated to other goals. Both the German gymnasium – the secondary school that prepared students for university – and universities themselves had forfeited their true vocation, which was to “inculcate serious and unrelenting critical habits and opinions”. Instruction in independent thinking had been renounced in favour of “the ubiquitous encouragement of everyone’s so-called ‘individual personality’” – a trend Nietzsche viewed as “a mark of barbarity”. As a result, education was dominated by two tendencies, “apparently opposed but equally ruinous in effect and eventually converging in their end results. The first is the drive for the greatest possible expansion and dissemination of education; the other is the drive for the narrowing and weakening of education.” The first extends education too widely and imposes it on a population that may not want or need it, while the second expects education to surrender any claim to autonomy and submit to the imperatives of the state.
There is more than a little truth in Nietzsche’s indictment. But to reach this nugget, you will have to wade through pages of Romantic gibberish about the aristocracy of the spirit and the privileges of genius, which foreshadow the absurd figure of the Übermensch that he concocted in his later work as a redeemer for modern times. But when he observed that education was increasingly being shaped by external forces, Nietzsche was on to something important. A shift of the sort that was under way in 19th-century Germany began in the UK with the regime of monitoring and assessing research that was imposed in the late 1980s. Until that time universities had been autonomous institutions. Now they have to justify themselves as somehow increasing national output – a requirement that denies that intellectual life has value as an end in itself and assumes everything of importance can be measured.