Liberal education in crisis? Comment by Conrad

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 4 February 2014



Conrad, L. (2014), "Liberal education in crisis? Comment by Conrad", On the Horizon, Vol. 22 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Liberal education in crisis? Comment by Conrad

Article Type: Authors' Comments From: On the Horizon, Volume 22, Issue 1

As contributors to this issue, we were all engaged in the difficult tasks of (1) defining the form and content of a liberal education, (2) outlining practical approaches to achieving its purpose and assessing their efficacy, and (3) describing the ideal qualities of the experience of providing and receiving a liberal education. It was interesting to see the many ways in which the liberal arts, and an education based on the so-called liberal arts, were defined; and yet, despite the differences in cultural perspective, in approaches, in historical periods surveyed, what emerged was hope.

1. Despite the old humanities-versus-vocational trope rearing its ugly head (thankfully critiqued by Jennings (2014) and Bussey (2014)), value-based inner exploration; clarity and precision of definition as an ideal; the integration of sign with thing signified to realise meaning (deep understanding rather than just knowledge); wide-ranging frames of reference, rather than insular and limited intellectual vistas: all were alluded to, explicitly by some authors, implicitly by others. I am more of a traditionalist: none of the arguments in this volume could have been made without the application of some aspect of the Organon which is the Trivium, and there is value in the traditional and integrated approach to this which is worth reviving. The approach would sit happily alongside more philosophically based ideas like Maxwell’s (2014) or the subject-neutral approach which Bussey advocates.

2. Delclos and Donaldson (2014) frame their solution to the practical-approach question in terms of the Ingatian (Jesuit) context. It is a moot point as to whether this frame is seen as exclusive and therefore illiberal, or as inclusive and expressed as a universally acceptable truth couched in metaphorical terms. What the "guided practice" is that Paino (2014) says is intrinsic to the practice of liberal education, and that distinguishes it from other forms of education (enabling the interplay of independence and interdependence, which he uses to define the concept of a liberal education) I do not know, but I would be keen to find out more – particularly from someone in his position. It was ultimately the ability to frame the last point that swayed me:

3. The ability to see the invisible (Scott, 2014, quoting Norman Maclean), expressed so beautifully by Pollard (2014), and in such a humbling way. It is not just about seeing, it is about feeling – emotionally and morally, intuiting, empathising – and integrating those qualities with and through reason, based on a value-based litmus test of truth, goodness and beauty. What counts in the long run is how we integrate all these and make them manifest. Ultimately, liberal values cannot be taught. They have to be lived. They are part and parcel of who we are – arguably, the best part.

As Marcus Bussey, Wayne Jennings, and I have pointed out, when doors to liberal thinking are closed, the impetus to explore them results in them "going underground" and flourishing in new areas. Of course there is hope for the liberal arts, after all – how could we ever have thought otherwise?

Comment by Leon Conrad, Independent Researcher, The Academy of Oratory, London, UK.

Copyright ©Leon Conrad, 2013. Leon Conrad has asserted his moral rights in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.


Bussey, M. (2014), "Liberal education may be dead but the magic will not die!", On the Horizon, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 3–6

Delclos, V. and Donaldson, R. (2014), "Contemporary liberal education: slowing down to discern", On the Horizon, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 7–9

Jennings, W. (2014), "Liberal arts in a new era", On the Horizon, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 19–22

Maxwell, N. (2014), "How can our human world exist and best flourish embedded in the physical universe? An outline of a problem-based liberal studies course", On the Horizon, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 35–45

Paino, T. (2014), "The reflective practitioner: the role of a public liberal-arts university in saving liberal education", On the Horizon, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 72–74

Pollard, S. (2014), "Men grow old", On the Horizon, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 75–79

Scott, R. (2014), "The meaning of liberal education", On the Horizon, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 23–34

Related articles