In a time when many colleges and schools of liberal arts are under siege by politicians, financial organizations, parents, and even educators from professional schools, one might be tempted to ask why one would send a son or daughter to study the Liberal Arts. What possible reason might exist for the continuation of such an outmoded curriculum? The standard response is that the Liberal Arts provide the student with critical thinking ability along with oral and written proficiency with a sprinkling of numeracy that is necessary to have success in the rapidly changing globalized economy and diverse world in which they will soon be competing. And while there is some truth in this response, somehow it fails to encapsulate the essentials of the Liberal Arts education: it sounds almost defensive.
There is no argument that the liberal arts and sciences set the foundation for engaged citizenship, for scientific and mathematical inquiry, and for professions where communications and critical thinking skills are embraced. But to see the study of the liberal arts only in these terms is to overlook its more profound aims: firstly, to promote joy and inspiration through the learning experience it engenders. On one hand, Liberal Arts studies opens one’s mind to embrace the alien, the unthinkable, the impossible while at the same time offers the discipline necessary for an ordered intellect which permits one to compete in “the modern market place of ideas” as Keith Kroll describes our contemporary world in his Fostering the Liberal Arts in the 21st Century.
What is seldom highlighted in discussions concerning the essence of Liberal Arts courses and degrees is that they provide a measureable intellectual distance from mundane and habitual aspects of everyday life. It is within this primordial garden of ideas that the student is able to play with new concepts without being held hostage to their relevance in the future. In the spirit of Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens, the liberal arts students can make value choices from their studies; he or she can experiment with identity, character, or actions from both an intellectual and emotional stance. This “playing” is essential in all intellectual pursuit whether it be in between the “interplay” of speech and language or that of matter and the mind; this is where the sparking of knowledge is discovered. This is where the Liberal Arts resides: here in School of the Liberal Arts and Sciences at the American College of Greece.
Patrick J. M. Quinn, PhD
Dean, School of Liberal Arts & Sciences