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More Thoughts on Liberal Education Today

It’s no secret that most of our colleges that give lip service to “liberal education” don’t deliver it, and what they do teach exaggerates—not moderates—the undignified confusion of our time. They certainly don’t give students the impression that there’s much—if any—moral or humanistic “content” (versus “method”—such as critical thinking or analytical reasoning) that they need to know. And so they don’t give students the impression that their education is about who they and what they’re supposed to do.

Not only that, but the permissive and indulgent atmosphere of our colleges extends adolescence far more than it serves as a bridge between being a playful child and assuming the serious responsibilities of an adult. 

So Charles Murray, in Real Education, seems on strong ground when he argues that we should declare the brick-and-mortar college obsolete for most purposes it now claims to serve. The students who go to college in pursuit of a technical career—the overwhelming majority of them—might be better served by a more focused and condensed education that would take much less than four years and wouldn’t require “the residential experience.”

Maybe we should abandon the pretense that the B.A. is the admission ticket to the world of most white-collar work. Students might actually be less confused if they were free from thee fantasy that anything about college can give them a standard of freedom and dignity higher than productivity. Murray concludes that “liberal education”—including real precision in the use of language and real knowledge of what’s required for moral choices—might be preserved for those most likely to assume positions of political, intellectual, and economic leadership in our country.

This sort of conclusion is unsatisfying if we believe that every human being has a soul worthy of being educated. Everyone, of course, has to live well with the responsibilities given to begetting and belonging beings open to the truth, including the personal truths of love and death. 

Everyone should be productive, of course, but everyone is also more than productive or entrepreneurial being.


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