Skepticism and Reverence: Liberal Arts as a Victim of Their Own Success
The history of the liberal arts has created many different reasons why a diverse and well-rounded education is necessary, so encapsulating one clear reason is a very difficult task.
What's the Latest?
Michael S. Roth, president of Wesleyan University, has released a new book explaining why colleges have such a difficult time selling a liberal arts education. Perhaps it is that STEM or business degrees are simply easier to quantify and therefore to sell. Or, as Roth argues, the history of the liberal arts has created many different reasons why a diverse and well-rounded education is necessary, so encapsulating one clear reason is a very difficult task. To Book T. Washington, it meant achieving economic parity; to Ralph Emerson, it was about finding the true self; to W.E.B. Du Bois, attaining freedom was the goal; and so on...
What's the Big Idea?
Nonetheless, Roth identifies two main goals of a liberal arts education: The goals oppose each other and create a productive tension: one goal to create free-thinking and skeptical individuals while the other aims to honor culture with a certain amount of reverence. "Both traditions are necessary for raising free and autonomous individuals who must also participate with others in society. It is next to impossible to attain independence alone, precious little can be learned without a common culture and the society of others, and it is the special task of education to offer the tools required to understand both oneself and the world in which one lives."
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