“The human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. “That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse”. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
-John Keating, Dead Poets Society
These lines said by John Keating the charismatic, and highly inspiring English teacher who not just taught English Poetry at school, but actually taught the boys in his class, to appreciate life, seize it, and enjoy it in all its fulness.
Liberal Education is a concept that is based on the principle that “minds are like parachutes; they function best when open!” Liberal Education, therefore, is expected to open young minds, through the whole process of education. The roots of the concept of liberal arts lie in a Greek word (scholē) that meant “leisure.” Liberal education has nothing to do with the word “liberal” in the left-right sense, nor does it ignore the sciences. From the time of the Greeks, physics and biology and mathematics have been as integral as history, philosophy, and literature. Well, from the view of Cardinal Newman in 1854; “Liberal Education is a broad exposure to the outlines of knowledge”. Liberal Education views the life of students as one that spurs creativity and thinking. It helps evolve and develop their talent. It provides students with an experience that fosters intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, self-reflection, leadership, and teamwork. It builds in them a sense of commitment and professionalism, with sensitivity to the surrounding socio-economic environment.
Late Bart Giamatti, The president of Yale, asked in one of his beautiful lectures, “What is the earthly use of a liberal education? How does it profit? To what then does it lead? Where does it end?” Liberal arts serve no goal external to themselves. In fact, the liberal arts take us a step closer to becoming better versions of our self. According to Martha Nausbams the human capability approach, liberal arts caters to the inherent diversity of an individual and helps one grow. It makes us a better individual, and help become the same with every role we play in our families, society, state, or towards the nation as a whole. That is what liberal education can do to us, open up to a host of new possibilities, not just as a career choice, but towards life as well. The heart of liberal education is at teaching one how to speak their mind, it teaches one to listen, deliberate, read, think, analyze, examine, dissect, write, argue, debate and above all to express one’s self. There is a pressing need to be yourself, the emphasis to be articulate and convincing about what you want to say, be it in theatre, dramatics, debate, poetry/music recital, dance, or any other form.
Also, another important thing that liberal education teaches us; is how to learn. I now realize that the most valuable thing I picked up in school or undergrads was not a specific set of facts or a piece of knowledge, but rather how to acquire knowledge. May be as Thomas Jefferson, states in his Declaration of Independence, as to how one must focus on “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness”; liberal art education does not, in the end, leave you with an “achiever tag” and draws a finish line to learning, rather it leaves you with a “potential eternal learner” tag, after kindling the inquisitiveness or the curiosity to learn more. Maybe this knowing more, Martha Nausbaum says Liberal Education polishes “our ability to think critically & rigorously”, and also make us not see ourselves or the others as “outsiders” but rather as “citizens of the world” and urge us to think for the collective good of the nation, deliberate on various global issues like poverty, climate change, etc and maybe it will instill in us the “ability to imagine sympathetically”, and act as compassionate & tolerant human beings that walked the earth.
The developed and the developing states have increasingly turned their education system towards a profit- motive. Nations have now shifted focus on advanced skills like applied science, engineering, management & technology and how the “humanistic aspects of science” like the imaginative, creative, critical & rational thinking aspects are losing ground and are now just a “pitchman”, and how they have a significance only if they add to the short term benefits or to the economic growth of the nation. States like Gujarat and Andrapradesh has achieved great economic growth through an increased number of ‘technical elite’ inspite of having rural populations who lack the basic literacy & numeracy skills.
Even though the above may seem like the shift that is based on the need of the hour, it is more important to pay attention to other abilities like maintaining the health of any democracy internally, decreasing socio-economic inequality, establishing political liberty, and addressing various world problems by creating decent world culture and a robust type of global citizenship, etc; and all this can be made possible by encouraging liberal art education.
Well, I would like to end it here saying, technical skills don’t have to be praised at the expense of humanities. Computer science is not better than art history. Society needs both—often in combination. Steve Jobs rightly said: “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts—married to the humanities—that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”