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PDF What does it mean to be a liberally educated person? It seems such a simple question, especially given the frequency with which colleges and universities genuflect toward this wellworn phrase as the central icon of their institutional missions.
Mantra-like, the words are endlessly repeated, starting in the glossy admissions brochures that high school students receive by the hundreds in their mailboxes and continuing right down to the last tired invocations they hear on commencement day.
It would be surprising indeed if the phrase did not begin to sound at least a little empty after so much repetition, and surely undergraduates can be forgiven if they eventually regard liberal education as either a marketing ploy or a shibboleth.
Yet many of us continue to place great stock in these words, believing them to describe one of the ultimate goods that a college or university should serve. So what exactly do we mean by liberal education, and why do we care so much about it? In speaking of "liberal" education, we certainly do not mean an education that indoctrinates students in the values of political liberalism, at least not in the most obvious sense of the latter phrase.
Rather, we use these words to describe an educational tradition that celebrates and nurtures human freedom. These days liberal and liberty have become words so mired in controversy, embraced and reviled as they have been by the far ends of the political spectrum, that we scarcely know how to use them without turning them into slogans—but they can hardly be separated from this educational tradition.
Liberal derives from the Latin liberalis, meaning "of or relating to the liberal arts," which in turn derives from the Latin word liber, meaning "free. Liberal education is built on these values: So one very simple answer to my question is that liberally educated people have been liberated by their education to explore and fulfill the promise Essay for uw-madison their Essay for uw-madison highest talents.
But what might an education for human freedom actually look like? Our current culture wars, our struggles over educational standards are all ultimately about the concrete embodiment of abstract values like "freedom" and "growth" in actual courses and textbooks and curricular requirements.
Should students be forced to take courses in American history, and if so, what should those courses contain? Should they be forced to learn a foreign language, encounter a laboratory science, master calculus, study grammar at the expense of creative writing or the reverseread Plato or Shakespeare or Marx or Darwin?
Should they be required to take courses that foster ethnic and racial tolerance? Even if we agree about the importance of freedom and growth, we can still disagree quite a lot about which curriculum will best promote these values.
That is why, when we argue about education, we usually spend less time talking about core values than about formal standards: This is not an easy question.
Maybe that is why—in the spirit of E. Hirsch's Cultural Literacy and a thousand college course catalogs—our answers to it often take the form of lists: This impulse toward list making has in fact been part of liberal education for a very long time.
In their original medieval incarnation, the "liberal arts" were required courses, more or less, that every student was supposed to learn before attaining the status of a "free man.
They were a very concrete list of seven subjects: Together, these were the forms of knowledge worthy of a free man. We should remember the powerful class and gender biases that were built into this vision of freedom.
The "free men" who studied the liberal arts were male aristocrats; these specialized bodies of knowledge were status markers that set them apart from "unfree" serfs and peasants, as well as from the members of other vulgar and ignoble classes.
Our modern sense of liberal education has expanded from this medieval foundation to include a greater range of human talents and a much more inclusive number of human beings, holding out at least the dream that everyone might someday be liberated by an education that stands in the service of human freedom.
And yet when we try to figure out what this education for human freedom might look like, we still make lists. We no longer hold up as a required curriculum the seven artes liberales of the medieval university; we no longer expect that the classical nineteenth-century college curriculum in Greek and Latin is enough to make a person learned.
But we do offer plenty of other complicated lists with which we try to identify the courses and distribution requirements that constitute a liberal education. Such requirements vary somewhat from institution to institution, but certain elements crop up predictably.
However complex the curricular tables and credit formulas may become—and they can get pretty baroque!
We have obviously come a long way from the artes liberales—and yet I worry that amid all these requirements we may be tempted to forget the ultimate purpose of this thing we call a liberal education.
No matter how deliberately they may have been hammered out in committee meetings, it's not clear what these carefully articulated and finely tuned requirements have to do with human freedom.
And when we try to state the purpose of such requirements, we often flounder. Here, for instance, is what one institution I know well states as the "Objects of a Liberal Education": One problem, I think, is that it is much easier to itemize the requirements of a curriculum than to describe the qualities of the human beings we would like that curriculum to produce.
All the required courses in the world will fail to give us a liberal education if, in the act of requiring them, we forget that their purpose is to nurture human freedom and growth. I would therefore like to return to my opening question and try to answer it since I too find lists irresistible with a list of my own.
My list consists not of required courses but of personal qualities:This essay delves deeply into the origins of the Vietnam War, critiques U.S. justifications for intervention, examines the brutal conduct of the war, and discusses the . Application essays and personal statements Use the links below to learn about writing application essays and personal statements.
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Gerda Hedwig Lerner (née Kronstein; April 30, – January 2, ) was an Austrian-born American historian and ashio-midori.com addition to her numerous scholarly publications, she wrote poetry, fiction, theater pieces, screenplays, and an autobiography.
“Only Connect ” The Goals of a Liberal Education by William Cronon. Print-formatted version: PDF What does it mean to be a liberally educated person? Before you begin: useful tips for writing your essay. Before you start writing, keep these principles in mind: Less is more: That is, you have a lot you could say, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you should try to say everything..