Re-Evaluating the Liberal Arts


In a society in which education is routinely confused with a truncated form of vocational training or as secularized ideological indoctrination, the liberal arts have gotten a bad reputation.

A book on the top of my stack these days helps to clarify the liberal arts, revealing them as the center of a powerful paradigm for classical Christian education. The book is The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education by Kevin Clark and Ravi Scott Jain. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Philosopher and author Peter Kreeft, in the book’s forward, argues that liberal arts education is no longer “mainstream” education. Rather, “the educational establishment feels deeply threatened by it.” Then he lists what he calls “eight silly objections to [liberal arts education] that are really advertisements for it.” These objections are well worth considering. They take us to the heart of what Regents Academy is striving to accomplish.

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1. It’s “divisive.” It’s not what everyone else is doing. It marches to a different drummer. It cultivates excellence rather than conformity. Yes it does. And this is actually sometimes used as an objection rather than as a selling point!

2. It’s old, outdated, unfashionable. Yes it is, like honor, courage, integrity, and honesty. It doesn’t try to tell the truth with a clock; it doesn’t practice chronological snobbery. In an age which has embraced every novelty, the true rebel is the traditionalist.

3. It’s not in line with modern philosophies: skepticism, cynicism, subjectivism, relativism, naturalism, materialism, reductionism, positivism, scientism, socialism. That’s exactly right. It’s not. It’s countercultural. It harnesses teenagers’ natural proclivity to rebel and turns that force against “the bad guys” who are now the “establishment” instead of against “the good guys.”

4. It’s “judgmental.” It believes there really is good and bad, true and false. The typical modern education is judgmental only against being judgmental, and skeptical of everything except skepticism.

5. It’s small. It’s private. It’s grassroots. It’s implemented mainly in small schools, not big ones. This is true, and it’s another plus rather than a minus. “Small is beautiful.” The bigger the school, the more standardized it has to be and the more the person tends to get lost in the system and get identified with his or her race, economic class, gender, sexual orientation, or political party.

6. It seeks the truth for its own sake, not primarily for pragmatic uses. It aims at wisdom, not wealth. It makes its graduates philosophers instead of millionaires. This is also true. But it’s not a fault. As Chesterton says, “Man’s most practical need is to be more than a pragmatist.”

7. It’s not specialized. It doesn’t include courses on underwater basket weaving or pickling and fermentation (which was actually a major at Ohio State). It doesn’t teach you clever ways to outguess Microsoft Word, or the government, or lawyers, or your professor, or the standardized tests. It just teaches you how to think and how to live. But businesses, law schools, and government agencies don’t want specialist drudges and drones; they want people who can read and write and think logically and creatively.

8. It’s religious. It’s Christian. It doesn’t pretend that the most important man who ever lived never lived, as our public education now does. It assumes that the supernatural is not the enemy to the natural, that “grace perfects nature rather than demeaning it,” as light perfects all colors.

Kreeft closes his forward with these words: “It’s precious – because children are precious.” Amen.

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