by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Shannon Watkins of the Martin Center devotes her latest column to shifting approaches to a liberal-arts education.
Over the decades, the conception of a liberal arts education appears to have slowly lost its meaning. Just because students may attend a “liberal arts” college does not mean that they will receive a liberal arts education as it was traditionally conceived.
One person who decries this transformation of the liberal arts is author and former Yale English professor William Deresiewicz. Deresiewicz voiced his concerns about academia’s treatment of the humanities as the invited guest speaker at Duke University, hosted by the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ Arete Initiative on September 18th. The event attracted a packed audience of about 100 people, perhaps due to the national attention Deresiewicz gained after the publication of his 2014 book entitled Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and The Way to a Meaningful Life.
Even though he is left-leaning, Deresiewicz shares his apprehension concerning the liberal arts with conservative thinkers. He believes that the study of the liberal arts ought to be a pursuit of knowledge for its own sake—not simply a set of hoops to usher students through on their way to a future career. And that students should be taught not what to think, but rather how to think critically and independently.
During his talk at Duke, he recalled from his teaching experiences how students often showed up to class during their first year of college already convinced that the positions they held were the correct ones. To them, college was not viewed as a place where one closely examines and challenges long-held assumptions—but rather as a conduit for putting those beliefs into practice.