Is Education in Liberal Arts Just as Important as Science or Math?

Written by Wes Walker on July 2, 2014

That would depend on what your educational goals were.

Is school just a means of collecting relevant job skills, so you can slip into your role as a cog in the machine, earn a good living, and walk away from books and deep thinking forever?

If so, you probably won’t be interested in liberal arts at all. Just believe what the politicians keep selling you, and let them determine what sort of neighborhood, city, and nation you live in. After all, you’ve let them do the thinking, right?

But if you’re reading a site like this one, that probably isn’t the only thing you want out of life.

Maybe it matters to you what sort of people are in elected office, and what goals they are trying to achieve. Maybe the “why” they do things is just as important as the “what” they are trying to do.

That’s where liberal arts (in the old-school sense of the word) comes into play.  A classic example was raised in Forbes by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry.

David Brat — who toppled Cantor — wrote about the Government’s “monopoly on [the legitimate use of] violence”. Pundits hoping to find out who this upstart was, when looking through his academic writings, came across that quote, with predictable results.

For those of us who still read (non-fiction) books more than twenty years old, this isn’t a new concept. It isn’t dangerous. It isn’t even partisan. But, the blogosphere, right on cue, wrung their hands and trotted out their favorite dead horse — fascism — for it’s obligatory beating.

The real problem here, is that those getting wound up about this are (we are assured) “educated” people. They are, so they love to remind us, our intellectual and moral superiors.

But obviously, there’s a large gap in their total body of knowledge.

And that gap happens to correlate with the same body of knowledge that specializing on what was once considered necessary for providing a nation with strong and competent citizens.

How many of us have read, and truly understood, some of the questions that heavyweights of moral and political philosophy spent their whole lifetimes grappling with? Have asked questions about what it means to be truly human? What the nature of the relationship between the citizen and his government ought to look like? Where freedoms and responsibilities intersect?

How should we define things like virtue and success?

Gobry continues on to make a strong case for why these things should not be excluded from a student’s body of knowledge, making note of the fact that the word “liberal” from”liberal education” has the same root as the word ‘liberty”. You can read the rest here.

I agree completely.

The reason a handful of colonists could become authors of the Federalist Papers, and the Declaration of Independence; the reason they were able to not only to argue their case, but also to design one of the world’s most successful and stable governments, was because they had studied — and came to understand from historical examples — both what works, and what fails miserably.

It could be that our ignorance of demagogues and tyrants from years gone by have left us vulnerable and blind to their encroachment. This might also explain why both citizens and partisans are so frequently on the wrong side of an important issue.

If you’re looking for a practical starting point to reverse this trend – for yourself or your kids – may I suggest you look here.