Progressive education, which tries to reduce everything to a narrow academic specialty, thinks “liberal arts” means “humanities.” But in reality, the classical liberal arts refers to a whole approach to education– one that is broad rather than narrow, connected rather than fragmented, open to the past rather than favoring whatever is new, etc., etc.
It’s called “liberal” from the Latin word for “freedom.” It goes back to the distinction in ancient Greece and Rome between the “servile” education given to slaves (nothing more than training for a job) and the “liberal” education given to free citizens of the Greek democracy and the Roman Republic–one that required the cultivation of the intellect and other human powers, as well as knowledge of the cultural heritage that must be transmitted to the new generation. (I argue that much of “progressive education” is a revival of “servile education.”) Interestingly, when Melanchthon and other Reformers opened schools to teach the masses how to read the Bible, they instituted a liberal arts curriculum, an education for freedom.
The British have done much with liberal education, and the schools they started throughout the British empire tended to follow this approach. Today, the still-Communist Chinese are blaming the liberal arts curriculum in the schools of Hong Kong for the pro-freedom movement currently roiling that city, with the protests generally led by liberal arts students. The movement is being called “scholarism.” In the mean time, the Chinese government wants to impose a pro-government purely economic curriculum. Sound familiar? [Read more…]