Want To Change The World?

Today is Liberal Arts Education day here on PrattleNog. My head is spinning with thoughts about the tremendous personal and social benefits of such because three items have crossed my path related to this question: Why is a liberal arts education important? These three items have raised for me four BIG CONCERNS. Here goes:

First, Inside Higher Ed posted an interesting opinion piece today titled The Case of the Disappearing Liberal Arts College. The authors argue that change in higher education is essential and inevitable, and that liberal arts institutions continue to be critical to well-educated citizens.  Their proposal? That private philanthropic foundations take the lead in guiding changes to higher education thoughtfully and carefully.

BIG CONCERN #1: Are private philanthropic foundations positioned well enough or powerfully enough to take on the “market forces” that the authors describe? I applaud the authors for suggesting next steps, but I fear that their proposed next steps are not strong or significant enough, partly because of the next item that crossed my path.

Here is this next item: A colleague sent me the link to this video of Liz Coleman, the President of Bennington College, speaking to the importance of a liberal arts education. One of the key things she says is this:

When the impulse is to change the world, the academy is more likely to engender a learned helplessness than to create a sense of empowerment.

BIG CONCERN#2: Don’t you think the “academy” — as a place of learning and transformation — should be doing exactly the opposite? (A side note: I think in many ways my own institution often does, but sometimes I think it may be more accidental than intentional.) Watch the whole video because Coleman makes some very good points.

Finally, closer to home, we are wrapping up phase one of our Envisioning Marylhurst process. One of the strategic themes identified in this process — one that I worked very hard to shape during the first conference after a dichotomy between a liberal arts education and a professional education was suggested — is this:  “Pioneer the integration of the liberal arts and professional studies to support lifelong learning.” The key word in this phrase is integration.

BIG CONCERN #3: We really need to take this work seriously if we want to provide the kind of education that Coleman proposes: “a truly cross-disciplinary education — one that dynamically combines all areas of study to address the great problems of our day.”

BIG CONCERN #4: Is this the kind of institution we want to continue to be?

Wow. I sure hope so.

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