Liberal education in crisis? Comment by Scott

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 4 February 2014



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



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Liberal education in crisis? Comment by Scott

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

I like Bussey’s (2014) formulation of the intrinsic value of non-vocational knowledge, although I disagree that the liberal vision is "deeply geocentric." It may be "deeply" personal in that it requires self-reflection leading to self-correction and evolution, but it is neither geocentric nor grounded firmly and forever in a classist or racist foundation, as I think is evidenced by the evolution in the design of liberal education. "Rich, white, male privilege" does not last forever; progress can be seen in the creation of new approaches and what is considered standard.

Delclos and Donaldson (2014, p. 7) are astute in reaffirming that "the degree to which our ability to interpret new ideas and new experiences is shaped by what we already know or have learned." One might state that this is obvious, and yet it is also profound. It is this grounding that allows us to engage in automatic and intuitive thinking, which, as he says, "are prone to error." They do a fine job of analyzing "fast thinking" with regard to the functioning of society, but I agree that "rapid and spontaneous responses cannot account for the acquisition of new knowledge or the production of creative responses." Being quick on the draw does not allow us to be "open to new and creative alternative thoughts or action." However, "slow" or deliberate thinking can lead to more openness to the points-of-view others offer. I connect this to the self-reflection and self-knowledge required in a truly liberal education.

Graber’s (2014) formulation of "culture maintenance and change creation" as intentional is astute and provocative. I think that proponents of change must understand the culture of the organization or institution in order to comprehend the potential for change, but, at the same time, I understand that enculturation and tradition can inhibit change. How does this work for individuals when we want a liberal education to lead to personal development, which, after all, is change? When reading this paper, I thought about my own formulation of the three fundamentals of tertiary education: curator of the past, creator of the future, and critic of the present, asking why and why not? In this way, I think we can have both a respect for tradition and an understanding of the ingredients for creating change.

I agree with Jennings (2014) that educational attainment itself does not equate with liberal-education outcomes. In fact, I think we should distinguish between the three major forms of "knowing": knowing by empirical evidence; knowing by emotion; and knowing by epiphany. These three – also expressed as facts, fear, and faith – result in different kinds of knowledge and are present no matter what the level of one’s education.

The Maxwell (2014) paper offers much to consider and it made me think of my own approach, which I call the three "clusters." The first cluster concerns "the world we meet" upon birth, that is wind, water, the sciences, including physics, his focus. The second is the "world we make," including manufacturing, architecture, engineering of all types, business, and commerce, etc. The third cluster consists of those systems of thought by which we mediate between the world we meet and the world we make, including religion, ethics, and philosophy. It is in these ways that we attempt to mediate between ends and means.

Conrad (2014) focuses on an ancient perspective. I found his discussion of "containment" and "continuum" to be particularly thoughtful in the following pairs: word and number, noun and verb, magnitude and multitude, point and line, space and time. This exploration of liberating thought introduces some ideas that are new to me and some which resonate with my own thinking, especially as it relates to the "line between faith and reason." This exploration into Augustine’s thought and the "cultivation of virtue and meaningful engagement with the essential qualities of things" is an exploration in thought encountered all too rarely.

Anderson’s (2014, p. 57) essay explores the differences between "liberal" and "education," "where education involves imparting conventional knowledge and liberal involves freeing the mind from it." He argues that reason and the moral order have evolved along two distinct paths, but that each is essential for the advancement of civilization, as well as for the management of oneself and one’s own future.

Abeles’ (2014) exploration of the practical and social implications of an emphasis on STEM education illuminates some contemporary concerns about undergraduate education and can apply to the meaning of general education as well as to the overall status of liberal education. I wish he had noted that in some parts of the country, at least, there is a drive to add the letter A to STEM, making STEAM, by including the Arts.

Paino (2014) explores the relationships between individual liberty and the need to recognize the rights of others, balancing the rights and needs of the individual and the community made up of individuals. He uses this line of reasoning to justify the need for public liberal-arts universities, thus underscoring the liberating mission and responsibilities of public institutions, those intended to be instruments of democracy, and not leaving this mission to private institutions alone.

Pollard (2014) organizes his essay into an interesting set of categories and underscores both the interdependence of these categories and the separate values to be considered, including knowledge, skills, abilities, and values, all fundamental to the definition of a liberating education. He underscores knowledge both as expert and general, skills such as language and computation, abilities such as reasoning and leadership, and values such as an appreciation of the "other." His conclusion draws from the messages in each of his categories and succinctly illuminates a complex philosophy.

I found these essays to be provocative and enjoyable, and both independent of thought and mutually reinforcing, even with their various interpretations of a common theme: the functions, forms, and foils of liberal education.

Comment by Robert A. Scott, President of Adelphi University, Garden City, New York, USA.


Abeles, T. (2014), "Is there a case for a ‘liberal education’?", On the Horizon, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 67–71

Anderson, G. (2014), "The reaction against conventional knowledge in higher education", On the Horizon, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 57–66

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

Conrad, L. (2014), "Integration and the liberal arts: a historical overview", On the Horizon, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 46–56

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

Graber, R. (2014), "Why is liberal education so incoherent? An anthropological perspective", On the Horizon, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 10–18

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

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