A Liberal Arts Education

In the article Freshman English and War, the author claims, “Both liberal education and general education were coached in the language of democracy and freedom, and yet, in the most obvious ways, they reduced students’ freedom to study whatever they like, to determine how many hours were required to get a degree, and to select their teachers” (186). While his article supports the author’s claim to an extent, I disagree with this assertion.

During the time of war, a huge necessity was placed upon the ability to communicate properly. This caused the emergence of many rhetoric courses that changed English as Americans were used to perceiving it. While ardent professors stuck by the standard Freshman English methods of teaching, more revolutionary teachers “showed interest in communication skills; its emphasis on the social; its insistence that the point of language use is communication rather than expression; its melding of the practical with patriotic ideals; [and] its trust of students’ willingness and ability to learn on their own” (177).

Towards the end of the article, the author states that while this form of learning lasted a while after the war period, it slowly declined. The students’ individualistic ideas were taken away from them once again, replaced by general or liberal education. As a student of a liberal arts college, I disagree with the author’s view. The different studies promoted during the war period have, in fact, lasted up to present day education. In my school, we are required to explore all different types of subjects, especially English (literature, written, and oral). This does not mean that we are being deprived of our right as individual students. In contrast, this liberal arts format gives area for both, students with a decided major and students, who are undecided, to explore their choices. Exploration of education, in my opinion, does in fact develop individual identity.

Apart from a liberal arts education, the other choice students have in present-day America is to go to a specialized college. Similar to education prior to the war, specialized schools focus on certain subjects, mostly science and mathematics, and only teach a vigorous adaptation of English. This study mainly focuses around analyzing and reading various literatures. To me, this is more of a deprivation of liberty and democracy. Why study specialized subject when a liberal arts education can allow students to not only think about the education they are receiving, but also apply that education to real-life issues? After all, was that not the purpose of such education during the war period: to stir acknowledge of the environment?

While the author does an excellent job tracing the evolution of English pedagogy in colleges, I disagree with his claim about a liberal arts education. I believe that a liberal arts education does in fact do its job in forming a democratic educational environment.

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2 Responses to A Liberal Arts Education

  1. Prof. Dadas says:

    I lost some of your train of thought in the second to last paragraph, but it seems like you are contrasting liberal arts schools with more vocationally-based schools. Many people advance the argument that liberal arts schools establish a broad grounding in several subjects, (and develop the “whole” student) but they do not afford the opportunity for a specialized focus. People argue that students who enter college knowing what they want to do can be placed at a disadvantage due to taking courses in subjects that do not pertain to their interests. I suppose it comes down to what you think the purpose of college is: to develop the life of the mind, establish critical thinking habits, allow for intellectual self-exploration–or, to prepare students to enter the workforce. I think it’s a little of both, so I’m not sure which camp that places me in. But these are important questions about the nature of education in the U.S.

    • fatimam1 says:

      I can see why that paragraphs confusing (it need revision on my part). And yea, I was writing from my view as someone who believes college to be a way to develop the life of the mind as you put it. I definitely did misinterpret some of the things the article was trying to say, and I found that out when we discussed it in class. I thought it was kind of condemning a liberal arts education, and that’s why I was defending it.

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