Is a liberal arts education for everyone?

I am honored to join Aleteia’s English Language Board of Experts, which means that I will have the opportunity to respond to articles and blogs related to Catholic Liberal Education.  My first opportunity arose yesterday to respond to a review of a recent book by William Bennett and David Wilezol, “Is College Worth It?”

Responding to questions about whether the liberal arts are for everyone, or should most people pursue technical or vocational training, I wrote:

The authors are considering higher education as it is, not as it should be.  A true liberal arts education, one that forms the mind and heart with the best of human thought and imagination, is for everyone.  At Thomas Aquinas College, a rolling admissions policy ensures that young men and women of varying capabilities are welcome.  Frequently the weakest students are most profoundly affected by their studies. 

Unfortunately, most liberal arts education is neither freeing, nor enabling, nor enlightening.  Humanities students find their natural longings for the true, good and beautiful suffocated by the “dictatorship of relativism”.   Real thought and wonder are snuffed out, especially if they pose serious challenges to professors’ pet theories.

Learning some skill is better than being crammed with nonsense.  However, Bennett and Wilezol, in their desire to sell STEM and vocational training, seem to miss the irreplaceable role of education in awakening and fostering the desires that are central to human beings.  “If your soul longs for genuine enrichment….”  All human souls naturally long for it; as Aristotle and Newman pointed out, scientific and vocational training tend to foster a dismissive attitude to anything that can’t be measured or sold.  Let’s not minimize the disaster for society that we experience on a daily basis, nor pretend liberal arts education is simply satisfying personal desires.

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About Andrew Seeley

Executive Director, Institute for Catholic Liberal Education Tutor, Thomas Aquinas College
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3 Responses to Is a liberal arts education for everyone?

  1. William says:

    Succinct and brilliantly stated.

  2. Anne says:

    So is it for everyone? I think I missed something. Is going to a liberal arts college the only way to receive genuine enrichment?

    • I am sure that is not the case. Yet, if Socrates is right that the “unexamined life is not worth living”, or at least, is not really living in the fullest sense a man can, then no one would want to be ignorant of the great aids offered by a serious liberal education and the world of the great and beautiful ideas it opens us up to.

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