The Liberal Arts, the People, and the PandemicRoundup
tags: education, liberal arts, STEM, coronavirus
Jonathan W. Wilson holds a Ph.D. in American intellectual history (conferred in May 2015) from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. A native of Texas, he now teaches American and world history at Marywood University and the University of Scranton.
The crisis, in other words, provides vivid lessons in the need for a comprehensive liberal arts education for ordinary citizens. By “liberal arts,” I mean not just training in certain disciplines, but rather a whole package of reasoning and imaginative skills. An integrated liberal arts education is important for citizens to live responsibly together during a crisis while maintaining their own personal freedom and respecting each other’s humanity.
Although it’s easy to forget this, the “liberal arts” are not limited to the humanities (i.e., fields like literature, composition, history, and philosophy). They also include other disciplines that expand a person’s understanding in general. They are literally the “free” arts—the arts of being a free person, and also the arts that apply freely to various aspects of life.
In a medieval European university, the seven liberal arts were grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music—loosely speaking, different aspects of language and mathematics. In a college in the twenty-first century United States, the liberal arts may encompass the humanities, mathematics, science, and social science alike. These fields and disciplines are supposed to operate in tandem rather than separately as they increase our understanding of the world.
Despite common misuse of the term, there is no inherent opposition between a liberal arts education and a “STEM”-oriented education; a comprehensive liberal arts education already includes the M and the S.
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