Friday, January 13, 2012


There are colleges and college courses of many kinds, but those colleges that aim to teach a curriculum of “liberal arts and sciences” and to provide students with a “liberal education” have a higher mandate than providing only higher-level and more challenging academic instruction than is offered in schools of secondary education.

The distinguishing feature of such colleges is implied in the word liberal, which indicates the greater freedom of mind promised by such programs, not just freedom from particular kinds of ignorance, but freedom from narrow-mindedness and prejudice—a freedom gained through skills of critical thinking and the growing realization of what is of value to oneself and others—which is wisdom.

Therefore, any course or program of study in a college of liberal arts and sciences ought to be justifiable not merely by the information it purveys, but by the mentally formative effects it produces in students, moving them further in their development of informed critical and appreciative thinking in the service of making valuable choices.

For example, in my own discipline of literary study, the first determination is to choose literary works worthy of study, exemplary writings illustrative of admirable artistic skills, intellectual cogency, and affective sensibility.  To grow in appreciation of such achievements is to grow more discerning, to grow wiser in ways that enrich lives.

Any other course in any other discipline in a liberal arts and sciences program should be similarly justifiable in terms of how it develops more appreciative, discerning, wiser minds in students.  It should be taught by faculty who practice such appreciation, discernment and wisdom in their own academic activities, and who can recognize and cultivate it in their students.