Here are some thoughts from Rabbi Avigdor Miller on Secular Education
Question: "IS IT OK TO HAVE ENCYCLOPEDIAS IN YOUR HOME?
Rabbi Miller: "It’s a question of limudei chol (secular education).
"In Frankurt-am-Main they taught limudei chol in the school of the frum Jews. A man who went there told me once that he learned more Yiras Shamayim (fear of Heaven) from his science teacher there than he learned from his rebbe, because the science teacher utilized all the lessons to talk about Yiras Shamayim. It’s possible for a teacher to inject now and then certain thoughts in the minds of students that will give them more benefit than what they heard in the mesivta where the rebbe was teaching Gemara and Halacha (Jewish law).
"If you’re learned already—you know Mussar, you learn Halacha —and you want an encyclopedia in order to use it to help other people become frum using the information that you might pick up, go ahead and do it. Otherwise forget about it, because you’re not capable of dealing with the Apikorsus (heresy) in these books.
"I personally think limudei chol are a good thing if they’re done in a kosher way, because limudei chol leads you to Yiras Hashem if it’s done right. If you’re capable of distinguishing, then it’s alright, but most people shouldn’t bother bringing any other books in their houses, because they’re not capable. Children will read them and they’ll make a wrong impression.
"A man once brought me some books. I put them in my bathroom and I keep them there. I get benefit out of them, but he wouldn’t get any benefit from them. (#E-083, Learning to Live Successfully)"
http://www.rabbimillersanswers.com/answers/is-it-ok-to-have-encyclopedias-in-your-home1Now this is the same Rabbi Miller who cautions us often to stay away from the gentiles and not copy their ways. So the matter isn't simple. If you can stay close to Jewish values, Torah values, and somehow at the same time gain from the best of secular wisdom, then it may be good to do so.
R' Hirsch's position isn't so different from that. There are numerous quotes from Hirsch (and I'll present them shortly) that tell us that we are free to gain from the best of the world of secular culture as long as Torah is the judge of what's good and what isn't. At the same time, you can hardly find a secular reference in Hirsch's thousands of pages of writings. It's all Torah.
One has to proceed on a case by case basis, that is idea by idea and person by person. And one should be cognizant that Hirsch's Germany, which was basically conservative, was very different from contemporary traife society. So we do have to be very careful when considering secular studies. It isn't just a matter of indecent subject matter. It's crooked thinking that permeates everything, particularly academia and media. One has to be careful but that doesn't mean a person is not allowed to look and to be enriched. Just know the risks and use the Torah as the guide.
And R' Hirsch in his own words:
"A secular education is a most beneficial help to our young in understanding the times in which they live and the conditions under which they will have to practice their life's vocation; hence it is most desirable also from the Jewish religious viewpoint and consequently deserving of warm support. But at the same time, and even more important, a good secular education can give our young people substantial new insights, added dimensions that will enrich their religious training. For this reason, too, secular education deserves the support of the religious educator." (Collected Writings, Vol. II, pp. 88-89)
“…Other disciplines are to be regarded as auxiliary; they are to be studied only if they are capable of aiding Torah study and are subordinated to it as the tafel to the ikkur. The Torah’s truths must remain for us what is absolute and unconditional, the standard by which to measure all the results obtained in other branches of knowledge. Only that which accords with the truths of the Torah can be accepted by us as true. The Torah should be our sole focus: All that we absorb and create intellectually should be considered from the perspective of the Torah and should proceed along its paths. Accordingly, we will not adopt ideas that are not in consonance with this perspective; we will not accept conclusions derived from others’ premises and mix them with words of Torah." 19 Letters, R. Hirsch
"Twenty six generations did דרך ארץ precede the תורה, for it says, cherubim and sword were established to keep the way to the tree of life; but the way is culture, and only then can one reach to the tree of life, to the Torah". Culture starts the work of educating the generations of mankind and the Torah completes it; for the Torah is the most finished education of Man. The fig-leaf and apron, those first gifts which Man possessed on his way to education, were the first appurtenances of culture, and culture in the service of morality is the first stage of Man's return to God. For us Jews, דרך ארץ and תורה are one. The most perfect gentleman and the most perfect Jew, to the Jewish teaching, are identical. But in the general development of mankind culture comes earlier. The "Sword and the Cherubim", the exigencies of life and the intuition of Something Higher in life lead the generation of mankind to the path of culture which ultimately opens onto the tree of life. That is why the Jew rejoices whenever and wherever culture elevates people to a perception of true values and to nurture goodness. But of course where culture and civilisation are used in the service of sensuality the degeneration only gets all the greater. But still such misuse of culture does not do away with the intrinsic value and blessing of דרך ארץ, for אם אין דרך ארץ אין תורה. Therefore Jews, too, are to attach themselves to, and love all good and true culture and by the ways and manner of their behaviour and demeanour appear as educated people, and show that being a Jew is only a higher stage of being a man. And of course, on the other side too, אם אין תורה אין דרך ארץ, if culture and education instead of leading to תורה, take the place of it, then it is not the way that leads to the Tree of Life, but is the way that leads to degeneration." Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Commentary on Pentateuch, Genesis 3:24.