Michael Roth, the president of Wesleyan College (and a historian, I might add), is the author of the brand new book, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters. In his recent piece at Inside Higher Ed he tries to imagine a country where liberal learning did not matter. There is some great stuff in this piece about the way the liberal arts teach us complexity, how CEOs of major corporations are looking for employees who understand the complex nature of the world, and Thomas Jefferson’s vision of liberal arts education.
Here is a taste:
So, what would America look like if we abandoned this grand tradition of liberal education? Without an education that cultivates an ability to learn from the past while stimulating a resistance to authority, without an education that empowers students for lifelong learning and inquiry, we would become a cultural and economic backwater, competing with various regions for the privilege of operationalizing somebody else’s new ideas. In an effort at manic monetization without critical thinking, we would become adept at producing conformity rather than innovation.
The free inquiry and experimentation of a pragmatic liberal education open to ambiguity and complexity help us to think for ourselves, take responsibility for our beliefs and actions, seize opportunities and solve problems. Liberal education matters far beyond the university because it increases our capacity to shape a complex world.