Mark William Roche, Why Choose the Liberal Arts?
This is the last part of my review of the excellent book, Why Choose the Liberal Arts? This is the second time I read it and I believe I like it better on the second reading. I assume there are so many good points in the book it requires a second reading to take it all in. In the last part of the book, Roche writes, "The idea of participation in a higher reality, a connection to the transcendent, is for the most part forgotten in contemporary culture, but it is common to both a liberal arts education's intrinsic value and its cultivation of a sense of vocation, of identity and purpose" (147). The intrinsic value of a liberal arts education and the cultivation of a sense of vocation are two of the most beneficial aspects of a liberal arts education. I first when to college to get a degree, so I would be able to go to a graduate, theological institution, and ultimately to become a minister. However, something unexpected happened along the way. I fell in love with learning. I began to appreciate learning for its intrinsic end. It was not so much what I could do with an education, but what an education could do with me. My experience in college converted me to a life of learning.
The author believes there are three purposes are reasons for a liberal arts education. The first purpose is the "intrinsic value" of a liberal arts education that is associated with "the value of the lost art of contemplation, with which the Greeks called theoria, which is independent of practical aims" (148). Developing the skills of critical thinking and other virtues and skills enable us to make an impact on the world. The second purpose emphasizes action. The third purpose emphasizes virtue and vocation. Roche states, "All of us are engaged in praxis, but in its richest form, praxis involves not only awareness of higher values and the development of formal capacities in our relations with others but also an existential commitment, a calling to serve others in addition to ourselves" (149). The author thinks we can view these three purposes as "knowledge, action, and love" (149).
Students, do want to be able to make a living when they finish formal schooling. Roche asserts, "Students of course want to get a job and make a living, but they also want to be able to say why the life they have chosen makes sense, in what way it is connected to something higher, above and beyond simply earning money. One wants to find something that is absorbing and challenging, and at the same time will make a difference for others. Work can become an opportunity to fulfill one's potential and develop one's talent and make a difference in the world" (152). It seems that a liberal arts education will help the student to accomplish this task. Many students go into careers where they will make the most money. Later, they take a lower paying position for a job that is more fulfilling for them. Many wish they had had a broader education, than the specialized education they received.
A liberal arts education equips the student for using leisure effectively. A liberal arts educated student can draw on the riches of her education throughout her life. The wide exposure to the arts, for example, makes it possible for the student to have a richer life after college. Roche states, "the liberal arts seek to cultivate a love for the life of the mind that can flourish not only on the job but also beyond one's occupation. If work becomes simply a means to make a living, the liberal arts graduate should be able to find a purpose in other realms, beyond work. Such a graduate has more resources at her disposal than someone whose education found its purpose in mastering the technical aspects of a given profession" (155). A liberal arts education cultivates the ability to live a fuller, more rich life. It helps one to live the good life. In some sense, it makes us more human.
Some students who graduate from a liberal arts education may be called to pursue learning as a vocation either through their job or through leisure. The author writes, "While every liberal arts graduate will have experienced all three dimensions of a liberal education--the intrinsic, the practical, and the idealistic--graduates may be especially drawn by internal inclination or external opportunity to one dimension or another. A certain percentage of them will pursue the life of the mind, becoming artists, scientists, scholars, or teachers. Many will draw on their formal capacities and enter mainstream professions in business, law, medicine, and public service. And some will take the unusual path, pursuing distinctive opportunities as diverse as foreign correspondent, social activist, or minister. Many will combine all three simultaneously, be it in their professional lives or in a combination of their personal and professional lives. . . .Another way of understanding this point is by recognizing that the life-long desire for learning that is cultivated as a formal skill helps graduates as they discern, over time, that their vocation and sense of purpose may well develop in unexpected directions" (156). This last point seems especially, important since many people will change their careers many times.
Why Choose the Liberal Arts? is a passionate defense of the liberal arts. The author gives important reasons why a student should choose a liberal arts education: Engaging great question; cultivating intellectual and practical virtues; forming character; and integrating the value of the liberal arts. He has shown that a liberal arts education better prepares for the uncertainties of the future than a specialized education.