The Last Liberal

“The University brings out all abilities, including stupidity.” — Anton Chekhov

“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” — Winston Churchill

I am an assistant dean in the college of liberal arts at a public urban university.  Part of my job is to help students solve the myriad of problems that can interfere with their studies.  Believe me, in my three months on the job, I have seen enough to fill several blogs and perhaps a couple of novels. 

Since I am in the College of Liberal Arts, I feel the urge to address the subject of liberal education and its decline on the modern college campus.  Liberal education is one of the few things that I find sacred; and as a professor I was a zealous disciple.  I could not understand (or accept) the fact that my students were not true believers as well.  Reactions to my teaching varied considerably.  On course evaluations my students usually wrote that “my expectations of them were unreasonable.”   On more than one occasion I even heard some of my African-American students call me a racist because I dipped freely into the Western canon for material for my history classes.  I had a few African students who had been educated in the European system.   Interestingly, they found my classes “engaging.”   Some faculty colleagues fretted that my methods would upset the classroom status quo and bring unwanted scrutiny to the department.  Others applauded my efforts, but told me privately that they were doomed to failure.  The rising generation, they warned, did not value learning—or at least, not the type of learning that was familiar to me.

I believe that we have become afraid to expect more of ourselves and our students.  Our consumer-oriented society and the escalating cost of college tuition have convinced us that education is just another product to be purchased; and thus, it must therefore be as attractive and non-threatening as possible to the largest number of potential customers.  True liberal education demands that assumptions be challenged, and ideas be twisted and pulled, and exposed to extremes of opinion.  In my view, to be educated is to be conscientiously uncomfortable.

Ignorance, to update Derek Bok’s familiar adage, is not only expensive, but also user-friendly.  Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.

About these ads

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: http://dlpeterkin.wordpress.com/2009/11/25/the-last-liberal/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. High expectations yield high results. They’re good enough; we need people to push us. Ignoring a canon because it doesn’t fit an identity group is a source of stupidity; people used to read books in Greek not because they were from Athens, but because Thucydides said stuff thousands of years ago about the human condition that still hold true.

    Push on, and I’ll do the same in my field of work.

  2. Sounds familiar (smile) but I love it anyway!

  3. Darryl, I found your blog link on your FB profile and have enjoyed reading your last six or so posts. You have a gift for writing! And I like your broad swath of topics. I’ll be back!

  4. Your classical training methods have fallen victim to “The Overselling of Higher Education.” Visit http://www.popecenter.org/inquiry_papers/article.html?id=1725 to read the revealing article. Vocational training has become conflated with classical university training, annoying the former and devastating the latter. I can certainly understand why you encounter these attitudes under these conditions. Perhaps you should consider moving to http://www.rifinst.org/ where your skills will find much more appreciation.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 767 other followers

%d bloggers like this: