Today I’m going to diverge a bit from the basic themes of previous blogs and comment on higher education — specifically, liberal education.liberal-educationjpg

Liberal education as defined by the Association of American Colleges and Universities is “a philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and a stronger sense of values, ethics, and civic engagement . . . characterized by challenging encounters with important issues, and more a way of studying than a specific course or field of study.” Usually global and pluralistic in scope, liberal education includes a general education curriculum which provides broad exposure to multiple disciplines and learning strategies in addition to in-depth study in at least one academic area.

Too often today, higher education has adopted more of the “trade school” concept in which the emphasis toward career preparation has replaced a “learning/thinking” focus. The result has been an overflow of professional formula regurgitation and limited awareness of the cultural and philosophical histories of our civilization.

This, of course, limits both thought and possibility as illustrated by the many single-sided rants in forums originally designed for lateral expression. Too bad. The issues of our time are being discussed only on a “scratch the surface” level, with ill-informed anger being the driver.

Daniel F. Sullivan, President of St. Lawrence University, described liberal education succinctly. It, “. . . requires the cultivation of those habits of intellectual and moral self-discipline that distinguishes a mature individual. . . . an education that fosters an open, inquiring and disciplined mind, well informed through broad exposure to basic areas of knowledge; an enthusiasm for life-long learning; self-confidence and self-knowledge; a respect for differing opinions and for free discussion of those opinions; and an ability to use information logically and to evaluate alternative points of view.”

So, when I read a story in The Washington Post last week reporting that applications to the nation’s liberal arts colleges were significantly down this year, I was dismayed. Certainly the United States needs more educated lateral thinkers to counterbalance the intellectually narrow thinking expressed, too often, by the yelling and vitriol that is getting dangerously close to becoming standard public practice.

Buried in the story was a wise quote from Christopher Nelson, President of St. Johns College: “What people don’t realize is that a liberal arts education will give them skills for life, and that will get them a job.”

Robert M. Hutchins, America’s greatest educator and former President of The University of Chicago,robert-hutchins said it best: “Ideal education is one that develops intellectual power. It is not one that is directed to immediate needs; it is not a specialized education, or a pre-professional education; it is not a utilitarian education. It is an education calculated to develop the mind. . . . without the intellectual techniques needed to understand ideas, and without at least an acquaintance with the major ideas that have animated mankind since the dawn of history, no man (sic) may call himself educated.”

— Bill Walton, Founder of ITC Learning