Mark William Roche, Why Choose the Liberal Arts?
The first reason why we should choose the liberal arts because it is an end in itself. A second reason is because through it we engage great questions or essential questions. In this part we add another reason. We should choose the liberal arts because it cultivates intellectual and practical virtues.
To emphasize contemplation is not to devalue action. The tendency of our culture is to emphasize action over contemplation. Roche writes, "Students are called away from the contemplative to the active life, from college to work, in order to address their most basic needs, to develop further through experience, to participate in shaping the world, and to aid in the welfare of others. It is, therefore, not only ironic but also appealing that the very education we elevate for intrinsic value cultivates virtues that serve meaningful external ends and prepares students for the needs and challenges of practical life, even if that is not its primary purpose" (51). Liberal arts is both an end in itself, and it is also an education to fulfill one's calling in life. I think it is better to think of the active life with the idea of service and calling, instead of career.
A liberal arts education cultivates the skills of reading, writing, thinking, listening, and speaking. The author writes, "A liberal arts education helps students develop formal virtues, such as the ability to listen, analyze, weigh evidence, and articulate a worldview" (52). Because of the exposure "to enduring achievements of diverse cultures, the liberal arts graduate is at home in a world of ideas" (52). Roche adds, "The abilities to communicate clearly, think critically, and solve complicated problems; the capacity to draw on a breadth of knowledge. . . and the desire to continue to learn are all fostered in the liberal arts setting" (52-53). Unlike job training, a liberal arts education develops skills that are applicable in many callings or careers.
Of course, writing is applicable in most jobs. How are oral skills developed? "A student's capacity for oral articulation is further fostered by conversations outside of class with faculty members and other students. Students who engage the great questions seek out conversation to discover and weigh new perspectives as well as put their own views to the test. Conversation is for students both a search for truth and an arena in which to develop their capacities for argument and wit" (56). Liberal arts colleges tend to have low student to faculty ratio. Many of these schools emphasize communication outside of the classroom between students and faculty, and student to student. Formal education in a classroom is just a part of the education a student receives at a liberal arts college.
In liberal arts colleges students learn to express themselves clearly is essays and oral speeches. They learn how to develop a thesis; develop ideas; write an appealing introduction; logical and coherent paragraphs; and a powerful conclusion. They learn how to research important questions and to find solutions to research problems. Roche asserts, "Students develop the capacity to be receptive to new ideas, to gather a wide range of information, to research and read diverse kinds of materials, and to organize information and ideas in a coherent whole" (67). They learn how to evaluate evidence. They learn how to communicate their ideas with eloquence.
In addition, a liberal arts education develops critical thinking skills. Roche writes, "A liberal arts education encourages students to challenge ideas that may be widely shared but lack merit; in this sense, it shields against bias and fosters independence of thought, that is, a liberal mind" (64). One of the most important skills is learning to think for oneself. In addition, to weigh opposing, or conflicting arguments and come to your own conclusion. The author states, "A liberal arts education teaches them to review evidence carefully and thoroughly. . . . They learn to recognize whether a reason is compelling or flawed" (65). These are important skills that will serve the student throughout her life.
A liberal arts education encourages a love for learning. It creates a desire for life-long learning. Roche states, a liberal arts education inspires "a hunger for knowledge and an innate curiosity, a love of ideas and a passion for meaningful information" (79-80). The author adds, "A love of learning that encourages the capacity to continue to learn is the greatest hallmark of a liberal arts education" (80). It is sad that so many think learning ends with graduation; instead, it is just beginning. I like what John Dewey says: "The aim of education is to enable the individual to continue their education" (80). Roche thinks a liberal arts education is "not preparation for a career, but preparation for continual learning" (80). John Dewey makes another good point: "To predetermine some future occupation for which education is to be a strict preparation is to injure the possibilities of present development and thereby reduce the adequacy of preparation for a future right employment" (80). A liberal arts education prepare a student better for the future than professional education. Roche makes an important statement: "Liberal arts graduates are more likely than more technically trained students to engage after college in the kinds of broad learning experiences that prepares for unanticipated developments and discoveries. They are also more likely to take continuing education courses for intellectual growth and personal development" (80-81). This desire for learning will increase their ability to achieve job and life satisfaction. A liberal arts education prepares the student to "excel in any endeavor" (99).
As we have seen, a liberal arts education develops "advanced skills" in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and thinking. It provides experience with a wide range of disciplines. It exposes them to different cultures and traditions. Last, it creates a desire to learn even after college. In the next part, we will discuss how a liberal arts education forms character.