A research paper on Liberal Education could begin: When embarking upon a college path, there are several options for students to consider. Some can choose to major in a specific trade, including many of the programs offered at community colleges. Still others can focus on a specific content area, such as mathematics or computer science, setting themselves up for a rather straightforward career path upon graduation. Most students, though, major in a field closely associated with the liberal arts, allowing them considerable freedom in choosing their job path and developing their various professional skills.
A liberal arts education involves content from throughout the curriculum development of an institution of higher learning; students are tasked with learning more than just one particular focal area. Instead, they are exposed to a variety of class types, honing their critical thinking and analytical skills and using them to solve a host of problems in a variety of novel ways. Emphasis is placed on society, culture, and the diversity students will encounter at various points in their lives. Students often develop a keen sense of responsibility for the world around them, frequently incorporating some type of service project into their desired academic discipline. While the specific goals and objectives of a liberal arts education can vary from one institution of higher learning to another, the widespread and far-reaching goals remain relatively similar: to provide students with the skills and abilities to think critically about the world around them, incorporating new styles of thinking and an awareness of diversity to solve modern-day problems as they arise.
A liberal education is designed to help a student acquire freedom from any present social, emotional, and intellectual restraints that would bind him or her from true freedom to seek new knowledge, ask new questions, and to grow in his or her own personal strengths or talents. Once that freedom is instilled, the student can truly grow, and contribute that growth as an asset to others. Liberal education ultimately seeks to better society through this growth of its individuals.
Liberal Education Courses
Early liberal education comprised a list of seven required courses of study: grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Together, these were the forms of knowledge worthy of a “free man.” In its earliest form, liberal education was quite exclusive, being available only to males of the aristocracy, but by its very nature of providing freedom and growth, it has evolved to its present state welcoming any human being desirous of such freedom and growth as the liberal education can provide.
A similar list of characteristics or required courses of modern liberal education might serve well for setting up a program, or for seeking a program of study. However, it might be even more worthwhile to create a list of the kinds of qualities that liberal education seeks to instill according to the National Forum on the Future of Liberal Education, such as Cronon and Turner’s list (1998), which is have paraphrased and summarized below:
- Skill in listening and hearing. A liberated scholar should be able to attend to a speaker, understand the intended message (or know how to derive understanding through communication), and empathize with the speaker.
Desire to read and ability to comprehend. This skill is not applied simply to the written language in a liberal education.
- The ability to read nature, to listen to and interpret music, to appreciate and understand cultural pluralism, and to look at, analyze, interpret and appreciate art are all forms of “reading” that a truly educated person should be able to do.
- Ability to communicate. Nothing stands in the way of an educated person’s ability to communicate. Culture, education, age, religious or political beliefs, social status, nor even language differences present barriers to them when they truly desire communication with a person. Not only can they communicate with others, but they are also able to inspire the one with whom they are speaking to become engaged in that communication. They seek the other person’s interests, and derive a common point of connection for meaningful communication.
- Excellent writing, persuasive, and motivational skills. Not only can the liberally educated scholar communicate well orally, but they can also communicate well with written language. They can express ideas that inspire, and support their statements with sound reasoning.
- Excellent problem-solving skills. A liberal education will equip students with analytical, managerial, and creative skills that enable them to apply problem solving to a myriad of problems from games such as crossword puzzles to large social issues such as school violence.
- Respect and expectation of excellence. An educated person does not view difficulty as a problem, but rather as a challenge. They apply this concept to education, which means that they expect rigor from education and training programs because it calls the students or employees to excellence. They understand the importance of wisdom over mere knowledge. They also understand the importance of human values.
- Humility, acceptance, and self-criticism. Liberal education provides cultural and philosophical education that enables people first tolerate, then accept and eventually appreciate peoples of different cultures. It also enables the scholar to look upon himself/herself with humility, with the understanding that their own culture is not necessarily the best—to stand outside their own world and look at the large world of various peoples through more objective eyes.
- Ability to understand and value organizational change. Educated citizens will understand the value of change. They will not be intimidated by emotions connected with change, but will understand them, and be able to empathize with them. They also will be able to apply the processes whereby effective change takes place.
- Ability to bring out the best in others. A truly liberal person will recognize the impact of each person (including themselves) on the community, and visa versa, and will seek to improve the community by nurturing each individual that they encounter.
- Ability to tie it all together. This is where the liberal education really has an impact, because it frees and empowers the individual to use the skills and knowledge to interact with and act upon his or her environment in a way that improves the human community. In one way it frees them, but it also instills in them a tighter bonding with that community, and a greater commitment to it.