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The Third Era of Education

This chapter proposes an alternative to contemporary liberal education, by specifying a form of liberal arts education that is fit for the 21st century. We begin with the classical period to ascertain what the founders of “liberal arts education” meant by the term. The classical authors distinguish two types of arts or main subjects of study. They hold that the liberal arts employ the mind and the illiberal arts employ the hands. Though the classical authors disagree about which of the liberal arts should be taught and which should be the focal arts of study, they did not disagree about the distinction between the liberal and illiberal arts. Though there are changes to the classical Greek approach to a liberal education by the Roman, Medieval and Renaissance periods, I show that the foundational Greek distinction between the liberal and illiberal arts persists for 2,000 years. I call the period before 1862 the first era of liberal arts education.

I call the contemporary period the second era of liberal education. During the American Civil War the U.S. adopted the Morrill Act of 1862 and the subsequent legislation in 1890 to establish agricultural colleges. These and other acts of Congress encouraged states to found colleges or adapt existing colleges to provide agricultural and vocational training. This generated a form of liberal education, in contrast to the liberal arts education. The agricultural and technical schools, vocational schools, offered a “general education” as part of the job training. Though the three terms, “liberal arts education,” “liberal education,” and “general education” seem to be synonyms, I argue that they are not. I show that these terms are being conflated. The contemporary use of the terms “liberal education” and “general education,” I argue, do not denote a “liberal arts education.” I argue that a liberal arts education holds that there is at least one intrinsically valuable thing; but a liberal education, and its form of general education hold that there is nothing with intrinsic value. Having disentangled the terms, I argue for a third era of liberal arts education. This curriculum for the BA degree functions to fulfill the general education requirements. I consider the AAC&U’s curriculum, which terms itself “liberal education,” and “general education.” I show that their model is a form of Bachelor of Science (BS) general education, but it is not a form of liberal arts education. I conclude that the third era model of liberal arts education is preferable to the previous two.

 The First Era

There are three primary classical Greek sources for our knowledge of liberal arts education, Plato, Isocrates and Aristotle.[1] Plato uses his characters in the Republic, led by Socrates, to address a liberal arts education. Socrates has established the importance of gymnastics for the training the body and music for training the soul in Books II and III of the Republic. This early education generates a fit body and a harmonized soul. In short, it gives good habits. It does not, however, give knowledge of “the principles that are the means of good government.”[2] The early education does not give the principles that account for the habits of body and soul being good. Music “educated the rulers through habits, imparting by the melody a certain harmony of spirit that is not a science.”[3] Some people know why and how, some people only know how. Plato distinguishes those who have logos and orthos doxa, from those having only orthos doxa.[4] In Book III, Socrates says that when training rulers they should be made to imitate people who are “brave, sober, pious, free and all things of that kind; but the things unbecoming the free man they should neither do, nor be clever at imitating…nor may they imitate slaves, female and male, doing the offices of slaves.”[5] Here Socrates distinguishes the liberal arts from the illiberal arts, the theoretical arts from the mechanical arts. In Book VII, Socrates returns to the distinction between liberal and illiberal arts to establish a liberal education. Here he names gymnastics and music, but adds mathematics, geometry, astronomy, and dialectic or argumentation. These liberal studies were yoked under the term “philosophy.” For Socrates the study of the liberal arts is the study of philosophy broadly construed.

Socrates argues that the liberal arts are useful. These arts are useful in fighting military campaigns, he argues, since they provide the theoretical inquiry required to campaign well.[6] In similar fashion, a study of astronomy gives “a better perception of the seasons and the months and the years concerns not only the farmer and the navigator, but no less the general.”[7] The ship-captain studies them to navigate. Their usefulness is not the reason that the liberal arts are to be studied. They are to be studied because they “draw the soul away from becoming to the world of being.”[8] They enliven the rational part of the soul. As Socrates puts it, “Let us then study astronomy by means of problems as we do in geometry and let the things in the sky go, if the study of astronomy is to make the naturally intelligent part of the soul useful instead of useless” to the person in search of truth and not to person in pursuit of practical gain.[9]

Socrates sets an order of subjects, “We start music and poetry before physical training” (376e). In music and poetry he is very specific. With Glaucon’s help, he specifies the poems’ content, meter and the musical modes that are allowed. He also names those that are forbidden (Bk. III). He names two-dimensional, Euclidean, geometry as one of the subjects. Then he describes three-dimensional, non-Euclidean, geometry (328). Three-dimensional objects in motion, or astronomy, complete this list. Here Socrates claims that the subject has no name. This subject is not valued by cities, but it is “charming” (528c). In some places, “the force of its charm has caused it to develop somewhat” (528c). “And, if the subject was consistently and vigorously pursued, it would soon be developed” (528c). It is tempting to think that “astronomy” means for Socrates what we think of it today, but it does not. Socrates distinguishes the liberal from the vulgar form of astronomy.

In my opinion, your conception of “higher studies” is a good deal too generous, for if someone were to study something by leaning his head back and studying ornaments on a ceiling, it looks as though you’d say he’s studying not with his eyes but with his understanding. Perhaps you’re right, and I am foolish, but I can’t conceive of any subject making the soul look upward except one concerned with that which is, and that which is invisible. If anyone attempts to learn something about sensible things, whether by gaping upward or squinting downward, I’d claim—since there’s no knowledge of such things—that he never learns anything and that, even when he studies lying on his back on the ground or floating on it in the sea, his soul is looking not up but down. (529a-c)

Socrates’ account of astronomy turns the student from observation to theoretical inquiry of forms. He argues that the “higher studies” concern theoretical models of observational empirical science. The observations are, he argues, imperfect motions that “fall short of the true ones” (529c).[10] Socrates says that in astronomy the eyes fasten on astronomical motions and in harmonics the ears fasten on harmony (530d). He disagrees with this approach to the subjects and argues that both should be studied through math and forms. The fundamental distinction he draws concerns that between ideas and objects in the world. He urges the study of ideas, where the objects are seen as imperfect representations of perfect models.

Glaucon distinguishes three types of goods. Some things are good in themselves, some are good for their consequences and some are good for both.[11] Accordingly, some things are good in themselves (intrinsically good), such as “joy” and “harmless pleasures,” other things are good for their consequences (instrumentally good), such as medical treatments, and some things are good for both reasons (intrinsically and instrumentally good), such as “knowing” and “being healthy.”[12] Socrates is willing to take Glaucon’s distinction into the discussion. The Many think that justice is good only for its consequences, but Socrates argues to the conclusion that it is good in itself and for its consequences.[13] Since knowing is intrinsically good and education is a process of coming to know, education is intrinsically and instrumentally good. Socrates must hold that a liberal arts education is intrinsically good.

Isocrates contemporaneously argued for a different curriculum for liberal education. He recognizes the “the education which was handed down by our ancestors.” He even “commends” current forms of education, such as “geometry, astronomy, and the so-called erastic dialogues.” Isocrates argues that rhetoric, or oratory, is the primary subject of adult education, “whether men have been liberally educated from their earliest years is…made manifest most of all by their speech.[14] Some liberal subjects should not be taught in adulthood. Continuing to study the abstract subjects actually does some harm. He points to the teachers of such subjects and comments, “For I observe that some of those who have become so thoroughly versed in these studies as to instruct others in them fail to use opportunely the knowledge which they posses, while in other activities of life they are less cultivated than their students—I hesitate to say less cultivated that their servants.”[15] The danger is that the subjects make one useless in one’s own affairs. In his insult Isocrates has invoked the same distinction between the liberal arts and the illiberal. The liberal subjects, of which oratory is one, are not servant, money-making, slave, illiberal occupations.

If the liberal arts, other than rhetoric, are so worthless in adulthood, why study them at all? Isocrates answers this by claiming that “it keeps the young out of many other things which are harmful.”[16] In the Antidosis he offers a better justification, “those who hold that this training is of no use in practical life are right and that those who speak in praise of it have truth on their side.”[17] He explains that these studies “only help us while we are in the process of learning. Their value is that they occupy the mind with “subtlety and exactness” and they force the mind to “difficult problems.” They sharpen the mind in a way that allows us to learn “more easily and more quickly.”[18] These studies bestow an “aptitude for mastering greater and more serious studies.”[19] Rhetoric, of course he thinks, is the most serious of subjects. Isocrates holds that none of the liberal arts, including rhetoric, are intrinsically valuable, they are only instrumentally valuable.

Aristotle’s most detailed discussion of liberal education is in Book VIII of his Politics. Aristotle divides education into two main periods, as did both Plato and Isocrates. From age seven to puberty is the education for children or the young. After puberty to the age of 21 is the education for adults. He tells us that there are three customary subjects of a liberal education; “grammar (reading and writing), gymnastic exercises, and music.”[20] He mentions that some people add drawing.

Aristotle distinguishes the liberal arts from the illiberal accordingly:

“It is therefore not difficult to see that the young must be taught those useful arts that are indispensably necessary; but it is clear that they should not be taught all the useful arts, those pursuits that are liberal being kept distinct from those that are illiberal, and that they must participate in such among the useful arts as will not render the person who participates in them vulgar. A task and also an art or a science must be deemed vulgar if it renders the body or soul or mind of free men useless for the employments and actions of virtue. Hence we entitle vulgar all such arts as deteriorate the condition of the body, and also the industries that earn wages; for they make the mind preoccupied and degraded.”[21]

The liberal arts are useful, indispensably necessary; and they are not vulgar, money-making, or damaging to the body, the soul, or the mind. Aristotle distinguishes the theoretical inquiries from the mechanical. This generally distinguishes the citizens from the slaves, craftsman, wage-laborers, and performers.

To distinguish the liberal arts from the illiberal, Aristotle refers to banausoi. I have translated the term “βάναυσοί” as “illiberal” or “vulgar.” It is also translated as “base,” “mechanical” and not surprisingly “base mechanical.” The Greek lexicon does not tell us much about the term “βάναυσοί,” saying only that such arts are “mechanical” or “merely mechanical” or “base” or “ignoble.”[22] The Greek term is the root for the English term “banausic” meaning “not operating on a refined or elevated level, mundane” and “relating to technical work.”[23] As Andrea Nightingale points out, the term “artisan” comes closer to the Greek term, though it is also too narrow to accurately capture the Greek term.[24] In general we can also say that the illiberal arts are those that ply “a trade or craft that involves the use of the hands.”[25]

Music is especially interesting to him, because it is liberal in its theory but banausic in its application. Aristotle faults Plato for restricting the admissible modes. Plato banishes the relaxed modes but Aristotle finds a use for them.[26] About music he says, “And even with the liberal sciences, although it is not illiberal to take part in some of them up to a point, to devote oneself to them too assiduously and carefully is liable to have the injurious results specified.”[27] He draws a distinction in music between learning music and being a professional musician. Professional musicians work the body hard and they risk harming the body. For Aristotle, learning music well enough to understand what is to be played and how to play it at a basic level is liberal, but playing music professionally is banausic. Aristotle invites us to think of other subjects that are mixed. He cuts off other fine arts from membership among the liberal arts. The other fine arts appeal to the other senses, sight, touch, smell, and taste. Hearing is different, he thinks, because it is moral and the arts appealing to the other senses are not moral. Aristotle and Plato notice that music influences people to act in certain ways and that the ways can be normatively evaluated:

“It is clear therefore that there is a form of education in which boys should be trained not because it is useful or necessary but as being liberal and noble . . . but also because they may lead on to many other branches of knowledge…and because this study makes a man observant of bodily beauty . . . and [helps him] become a good judge of performances.” [28]

Although the liberal arts are among the useful and necessary arts, it might seem that they are pursued because they are a certain type of useful and necessary art. Aristotle is clear that this is not the case: “To seek for utility everywhere is entirely unsuited to men that are great-souled and free.”[29] The liberal arts are not valued for their utility and they are not done for the sake of others. That a professional musician engages the art for the sake of the audience is one reason that Aristotle terms music vulgar in one respect.[30] For Aristotle the liberal arts are pursued because they render the person happy when actively engaging in the liberal arts. He argues that these arts are intrinsically valuable: “For the end is desirable not for the sake of anything that will result from it, and also pleasures of the sort under consideration are not desirable for the sake of some future result, but because of things that have happened already.”[31] We see this position right from the start of the Metaphysics, “All men desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight.”[32] Knowing and seeing are intrinsically valuable for Aristotle. The liberal arts are intrinsically and instrumentally valuable.

Aristotle takes rhetoric as a counterpart to dialectic.[33] Rhetoric is like dialectic, since neither are “bound up with a single definite class of subjects.”[34] For Aristotle, rhetoric is “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion,” it is useful.[35] The two differ, since persuasion directs rhetoric and logic guides dialectic. Still, Aristotle places rhetoric as a sub-discipline of dialectic.[36] He places dialectic among the liberal arts. In this way, he places rhetoric among the liberal arts.

The Romans termed the liberal arts the “ars liberalis.” These arts expanded on the Greek ideal by adding architecture, which was a Roman interpretation of Aristotle’s “drawing.” The arts concerned aesthetically beautiful, mathematically proportionate compositions. The Romans were the first to require a second or foreign language, Greek, in higher education. They also formally distinguished ratio from oratio, “judging wisely” from “speaking eloquently.”[37] Cicero reminds his audience that the Greeks recognized a political and a non-political version of the liberal arts. As we saw, some Greeks such as Plato focused on reasoning, math, and the logos; others such as Isocrates focused on oration. The ability to speak well requires one to know many things. Since orators often claim that they can speak on any subject, it seems that they need to know about everything. Cicero does not require that they know everything.[38] “In my opinion,” Cicero argues, “indeed, no man can be an orator…unless he has attained the knowledge of everything important, and of all liberal arts, for his language must be ornate and copious from knowledge, since, unless there be beneath the surface matter understood and felt by the speaker, oratory becomes an empty and almost puerile flow of words.”[39] Socrates’ wisdom was well known in the classical world and the Stoics among others look to him as their founder. Cicero reminds his audience that Socrates was not active in politics. Cicero rejects the narrowing of subjects within the liberal arts. So he holds that knowing oratory and politics does not eliminate the need to know logic and mathematics.

In Education of the Orator, Quintilian argues for rhetoric as the primary subject of the liberal arts. He explains that “though I allow that I shall make use of certain principles which are contained in the books of philosophers, still I would openly declare that these principles belong by right and truth to my domain and properly pertain to the art of oratory.”[40] He holds that oratory is the primary subject, not by excluding philosophy or logic or any other subject, but by claiming that all the other subjects fall under oratory.

Seneca reiterates and interprets the basic distinction between the liberal and illiberal arts. In On Liberal and Vocational Studies, he spends more time discussing the illiberal arts. The liberal arts are not money-making arts. He argues:

“In this discussion you must bear with me if I do not follow the regular course. For I do not consent to admit painting into the list of liberal arts, any more than sculpture, marble-working, and other helps toward luxury. I also debar from the liberal studies wrestling and all knowledge that is compounded of oil and mud; otherwise, I should be compelled to admit perfumers also, and cooks, and all others who lend their wits to the service of our pleasures.”[41]

Seneca argues that we do not teach the liberal arts because they contain the virtues or combine together to make virtue. He asks, “Why, then, do we educate our children in the liberal studies? it is not because they can bestow virtue, but because they prepare the soul for the reception of virtue. Just as that ‘primary course,’ as the ancients called it, in grammar, which gave boys their elementary training, does not teach them the liberal arts, but prepares the ground for their early acquisition of these arts, so the liberal arts do not conduct the soul all the way to virtue, but merely set it going in that direction.”[42] Seneca fears that his fellow Romans, in their love of useful knowledge, are losing sight of the basic distinction between the liberal and illiberal arts.

The Romans retain the distinction between the liberal arts and the illiberal arts. Cicero argues for retaining the non-political liberal arts. Quintilian argues in agreement with Isocrates to the conclusion that oratory is the focal liberal art. Seneca employs the distinction between the liberal and illiberal arts to preclude inclusion of illiberal subjects within the liberal arts. Though the Romans focus on the instrumental value of the liberal arts, they do not deny it intrinsic value. In the middle ages we see the codification of the liberal arts into the tritium (grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy), differently defined by different schools at different times. The trivium and quadrivium prepare the student for studies in philosophy and theology. In addition to these subjects, sometimes professional subjects were added, such as law and medicine. In the middle-ages all subjects became subject to religion. This limited the breadth of each subject. All the middle-age’s subjects are among the Greek liberal arts. Religion, however, was a dominant subject of study, by introducing itself among the liberal subjects and by constraining the content of the other subjects.

The Renaissance ushers in a return to the classical age of the Greeks and Romans, along with the promise of freedom from the constraints of religious dominance. Pier Paolo Vergerio, circa 1402, offers a curriculum that retains the classical liberal arts subjects; gymnastics, music, math, grammar, languages (Greek and Latin), philosophy, oration, and science. He also includes at least two professional disciplines, medicine and law.[43] In the catalog of the 1855–53 academic year at Dartmouth College, we see the same subjects; languages (Greek and Latin), math, science rhetoric, logic, philosophy and history. The Greeks, as much as their works were known in the Renaissance, became the focus again. The classical period gives us certain historically persistent features of liberal education; 1) certain subjects are liberal (math, science, philosophy, and grammar), 2) certain subjects are illiberal (vocations, performance, and service professions), 3) the value of the liberal arts is intrinsic, and 4) the liberal arts are necessary but not sufficient to make a person of character. Historical epochs have disagreed about which liberal arts should be included in a liberal arts education, but for 2,000 years they have agreed about the distinction between the liberal and illiberal arts and they have almost unanimously agreed about the intrinsic value in the liberal arts.

We can construct a first era curriculum for a liberal education. The primary subjects fall into three contemporary categories:

Contemporary Subject AreasClassical Subjects
1.      Fine ArtsGymnastics and music
2.      HumanitiesGrammar, philosophy and rhetoric
3.      ScienceMath


This brief history of liberal education from inception with the Greeks to the mid-twentieth century is enough to establish certain historical facts about a liberal education. Descriptively we can say that liberal education identifies core subjects as foundational for other subjects. Liberal education comes in two stages, basic training in gymnastics and music followed by the other subjects.

In the classical period the subjects were fewer, but broader. Grammar covered not only what we call grammar but also literature, poetry, history and what we call “letters” generally. Aristotle notes that drawing is included by some educators. The Romans expand the curriculum to include architecture and other subjects. The middle-ages added religion and kept what liberal arts they could tolerate. The Renaissance returned to the classical foundations. It did so in both the particular subjects of study and the breadth of subjects in the liberal arts. The Renaissance tradition continues through Europe and the U.S. until the 1940’s. What is remarkable is that these few subjects persisted as the necessary features of liberal arts education, that the distinction between liberal and illiberal persisted, and that the intrinsic value of the liberal arts was maintained into the twentieth century.

 The Second Era

With the founding of Harvard (1638), William and Mary (1694), Yale (1702), and Princeton (1747), along with the existing colleges and universities in Europe, the liberal arts continued with a focus on the classical texts. One major development was the introduction of local communities members or “visitors” which were often clergy.[44] This gave some community members standing to influence the curriculum and it often led to more religious content in the subjects of study. Nonetheless, this period continues to focus exclusively on what the classical age took to be the basic distinction between the liberal and illiberal arts. At no time did any program claim that the illiberal arts are part of the liberal arts or that they are of equal value of study. We see in the subjects of study that they are all qualified to be liberal arts among the core classical distinction.

The Yale Report of 1828 defends the requirement of classical or “dead languages” as a requirement for admission and as a requirement of its general-liberal education.[45] At this time Yale, Princeton, and Harvard all require such languages for admission and each has a regimented education in the liberal arts. Yale was pressed to justify their inclusion of the dead languages when Judge Darling urged them to replace the languages with more modern subjects. In response, Day argues that a university teaches “a little of everything.”[46] “Professional, mercantile, mechanical, or agricultural training were best conducted in practical settings or in specialized vocational and professional schools. Besides, college graduates were well supplied with enough native ingenuity, skill, and intellectual abilities to continue learning on their own.”[47] The ideal of the liberal arts university was found in study of the liberal arts to train the mind to learn, grounded in the ability to understand complex and abstract systems of thought. Day’s position implies that if you have a college degree, then it is highly probably you can earn a professional or vocational degree. If you have a vocational degree, then it is not thereby more probable that you can earn a college degree. Instead, the coursework before college is of central import, such as reading, writing, foreign languages and mathematics.

Harvard offered elective subjects as early as 1825.[48] Harvard eventually stands in contrast to Princeton and Yale. Charles W. Eliot became President of Harvard in 1869 and he wrote “Liberty in Education” in 1885. The general education should not have compulsory classes. The students, he argues, should be free to choose the courses according to their interests in subjects. Despite his commitment to an elective general education Eliot sets limits on the courses within the curriculum. All the subjects available on the menu are “liberal” or “pure,” none of them are illiberal or “technical,” or “professional.”[49] Though he does not formally distinguish the liberal from the illiberal arts, he does mention some subjects as preparatory and central to a liberal education. He argues that college should start in the eighteenth year. “Only the elements of two foreign languages and the elements of algebra and geometry can be said to be generally recognized as indispensable to the proper training of all young people who are privileged to study beyond their seventeenth year.”[50] Moreover, the subjects naturally interact in an education since, he argues, a physician will learn “French, German, chemistry, physics, and biology,”[51] and “No one can study German philosophy to advantage unless he can read German.”[52] “No one can get far in physics without being familiar with trigonometry and analytic geometry.”[53] He mentions relations of subjects to preparatory, foundational, and core subjects. His elective program is not unlimited, its limits are in the range of subjects, only liberal subjects, the relations among subjects, to study X you must also study P, Q and R; and assumptions about core subjects of study, foreign languages, reading, writing and mathematics. This elective system is not as liberal as it first seems. Eliot is distinguishing a university from a college and aspiring to make Harvard an equal to the great universities in Europe. He is trying to increase the number of subjects and have subject reach the highest level of learning within the subject. In the period from the 1860s to about 1900 the term “liberal,” or “free,” education takes on a new meaning. It comes to refer to an elective system of general education in a liberal arts college or university. This designation does not replace the meaning of “liberal” as referring to the liberal arts and not the illiberal arts. The elective system allows for electives among the liberal arts, but does not license substituting illiberal studies.

In 1885 Eliot publicly debated James McCosh, President of Princeton University, on the elective approach to liberal education.[54] McCosh argues that the elective system does not enforce enough structure. A student could fill his curriculum with boxing, wrestling, and drawing classes and still earn a degree in engineering. McCosh holds that the freedom in electing courses can be exploited. Such a system lacks quality control. He offers examples of possible curricular selections that one could make at Harvard and argues against their value.[55] McCosh argues that Greek, Latin, mathematics, rhetoric, physics, logic, and political economy should be required in a liberal education.[56] History sides with Eliot and against McCosh. The debate between Eliot and MCosh exemplifies a broader debate about liberal education in the U.S.[57]

During and after the American Civil War the U.S. made two important innovations concerning education. The Morrill Act of 1862 and 1890 established agricultural colleges. These colleges were charged to focus on the mechanical arts:

“without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactic, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”[58]

The concern is that citizens need training in agricultural, mechanical arts, and military tactics. Despite the focus, the agricultural colleges were to add the curriculum “without excluding” the liberal arts.

The U.S. also established the Department of Education. Its first iteration began on March 2, 1867. The debate leading up to the founding of the department speaks to the concerns about whether the people in the southern states are educated well enough to participate in politics and the economy. Henry Barnard was appointed as its first Commissioner. The Congressional debates preceding the establishment of the department show that representatives voiced concerns about the constitutional legitimacy of it and the possibility that it would usurp states’ rights over the content of education. The “Congressional Globe,” supra note 1, at pg. 2968, in 1866 records that Mr. Donnelly of Minnesota asks, “How far were the dirty, unkempt hordes of ignorant men who flocked under the standards of Lee and Johnston fitted for self-government…?” He characterizes the southern states as ignorant and uncivilized. “We must take some measure to provide for or induce the education of its people, black and white…Then let us eliminate that which is more dangerous than slavery—ignorance. Let us labor to make every man who votes an intelligent, conscious, reasoning, reflecting being.”

Mr. Rogers of New Jersey spoke next. He argues that this is not a legitimate function of the federal government. The federal government has never been used for “philanthropy” or to create a “bureau for the purpose of giving the principles by which the children of the different states shall be educated would be a thing never attempted in the history of this nation. It was never thought of before.” Rogers continues, “I say in the first place that there is no authority under the Constitution of the United States to authorize Congress to interfere with the education of the different States in any manner, directly or indirectly.” He warns that “Although the bill does not propose to go into the States and interfere with the regulation of the school systems there, yet it proposes to collect such statistics which will give controlling power over the school systems of the States.” To meet these concerns and objections, the department was charged simply to collect data and compile statistics on education in the states.[59] Over time the Department of Education became involved in higher education, through funding for colleges and for loans to students.

Illiberal education in the U.S. is conducted through the publicly funded junior colleges and the privately funded trade schools. The Department of Education and the GI Bill (1944) provides student loans for both public and private education. Since the Second World War the U.S. government has worked closely with universities to educate active military and veterans. Job training is a necessary part of transitioning from military to civilian life. After the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War the U.S. revisited the import of education for job training. The system of junior colleges began in 1901 with Joliet Junior College.[60] In 1948 the Truman Commission called for a national network of junior colleges and in the 1960s they formed a national network of 457 members.[61] The Association of Junior Colleges reports that “Today, community colleges educate more than half the nation’s undergraduates.”[62]

From the 1910s to the 1930s there is a catastrophe of consensus about liberal education. During this period there is no longer any agreement on the curriculum of a liberal education. This era shows idiosyncratic innovations at each school and incoherent relations among the schools. This free-for-all is well documented by William Foster, President of Reed College. He collects data on the requirements for a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree from 29 state universities. He provides six subjects that are potentially required for a liberal education; Latin/Greek, modern languages, natural science, English rhetoric, math and history. He concludes that “The most striking fact exhibited by the table is the total want of accepted idea as to what subjects should be required for the [BA degree].”[63] He also provides a chart for certain private liberal arts colleges and universities, concluding about it that “The variation here exhibited is even greater than that for the state universities.”[64] The charts show that there is no “clearly defined and abiding principle, but according to personal [considerations] of the moment and place.”[65] Despite the striking lack of consensus on the curriculum of a liberal education, Foster’s chart reveals a coherent view of what can or should count for a liberal education. He offers five subjects that may be required in a liberal education; languages, natural science, English, math and history. These are all liberal arts, though they are not all the liberal arts historically.

The 1940s and 50s saw liberal arts education “reduced to arguing for survival.”[66] The 1960s through the 1970s saw major changes to education in the U.S. In 1979 Congress created the Department of Education as a presidential cabinet level department.[67] The department states that its mission is “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”[68] The decline in liberal arts education in the late 19th century generated an adventitious variety of curricula. In 1944 John Dewey responds to the degraded system of higher education by publishing, “The Problem with the Liberal Arts College.” He begins with an observation, “nothing is more striking in recent discussions of liberal education than the widespread and seemingly spontaneous use of liberating as a synonym for liberal.”[69] His hope was that making the term “liberal” mean liberating, we could then establish “observable consequences” of a liberated person.[70] Dewey urges liberal education to focus on certain human abilities rather than on certain subjects. People say that liberal education is supposed to create liberated persons and Dewey agrees. This view:

“marks a break with the traditional idea that a certain group of studies is liberal because of something inhering in them—belonging to them by virtue of an indwelling essence or nature—as opium was once said to put persons to sleep because of its dormitive nature.”[71]

Dewey uses a medieval explanation of medical cause to impugn the Greeks. Accordingly, Plato, Isocrates, and Aristotle are accused of applying a fiction, when they distinguish the liberal and illiberal arts.

Dewey denies that the liberal arts have intrinsic value. In 1944 he also publishes “Challenges to Liberal Thought,” wherein he offers a sustained rejection of the intrinsic value of the liberal arts. He adopts Peirce’s pragmatism and applies it to “breathe life into the dead bones of philosophy.”[72] Though the Greek ideals of liberal education were “faithful to the facts of social life” in Greece, he rejects their application to the U.S. in the 20th century. He relies on behaviorism, arguing that we should employ the social sciences to produce observable behaviors to determine to what extent the person possesses the character trait of being liberated. He does not offer an assessment of “being liberated.”

In “The Ambiguity of ‘Intrinsic Good,” Dewey argues against the concept of the intrinsic good of any sort. He points to ambiguities in the term “intrinsic.”[73] There is a particular use of the term, “all qualities whatever are ‘intrinsic’ to the things they qualify at the time and place of the occurrence of the latter—provided only the things in question do genuinely ‘have’ them.”[74] This use of the term “does not go beyond assertion of a brute matter of space-time existence.”[75] Along this line “X is good” means that someone actually enjoys or is satisfied by X at some place and time. The universal use of the term “intrinsic” refers to the “essential” features of a thing, the features it has “of its own,” or “in itself.”[76] This use of the term, he argues, requires commitment to certain logical and metaphysical assumptions about universals, existentials, formal causes, and forms. In his words, this use of the term “intrinsic” assumes a “logico-metaphysical” doctrine.[77] He concludes that one should distinguish the uses of the term from each other and offer an “independent justification” for the logical and metaphysical assumptions in the latter use.

But elsewhere he notes that certain critics charge his system with being “merely vocational,” only “concerned with making a living,” “materialistic,” and “temporarily expedient.”[78] He responds by observing that the “present system (if it may be called a system) is so lacking in unity of aim, material, and method as to be something of a patchwork.”[79] Dewey’s claim about the state of education is accurate. The criticisms of his suggested approach to education, however, are also accurate. The criticisms that Dewey defends against find support, when we return to his essay published in the same year on the problems of the liberal arts college. There he argues:

“The outstanding need is interfusion of knowledge, of man and nature, of vocational preparation with a deep sense of the social foundations and social consequence of industry and industrial callings in contemporary society…The present function of the liberal arts college, in my belief, is to use the resources put at our disposal alike by humane literature, by science, by subjects that have a vocational bearing, so as to secure ability to appraise the needs and issues of the world in which we live.”[80]

He does argue for a vocational education. He offers industrial and vocational training as a replacement to the traditional form of liberal arts education.[81] He might disagree with the “reasons given for criticizing” his proposals, but he must accept the accuracy of the criticisms.[82]

Dewey’s view is historically radical.[83] He puts all subjects on equal footing, by noting that “If a particular group of studies is ‘liberal’ in and of itself, such an inquiry is irrelevant.”[84] This means that if some subjects are liberal and others illiberal, then Dewey’s suggestions about education are irrelevant. Let’s recall that Plato describes the democrats as legitimizing their rule by arguing that there is no such thing as statecraft. Since there is nothing to know, we are instantly all experts in statecraft. Dewey takes a similar line, by arguing that there is no such thing as a liberal art. There are, for him, only liberating arts. Since all subjects are potentially liberating, given the right vocational, social, political, and economic forces, all subjects are liberating. Thus, no subjects are liberal arts and all subjects are liberal.

The particular use of the term indicates an existential proposition, such as “This person enjoyed this object at this time and place.” The universal use of the term, in contrast, seems to indicate a universal proposition, such as “All people enjoy this object.” This, however, is mistaken, since the claim that the liberal arts are intrinsically valuable is not a claim that all people value them. Instead, it is a claim that such things are worthy of value, whether they are valued or not. By analogy, though all visible things are seen it does not follow that all valuable things are valued. The proper universal use of the term in a proposition is, “All liberal arts are intrinsically valuable.” This is a normative claim and it helps justify a prescriptive claim that “everyone should value the liberal arts.” Whether someone or everyone values such a thing means not. Dewey is right to say that such a claim is in need of additional justification. His claim also wants for justification in the same way, since one must show that “the things . . . do genuinely have” the qualities. Brute facts say nothing. There is always need of justification, in the form of observation and reports, or in the form of normative arguments.

Two years after publishing his observation about the ambiguity of “intrinsic good,” he publishes “The Challenge to Liberal Thought” and “The Problem of the Liberal Arts College.” These essays show that Dewey did not propose the ambiguity of intrinsic value as an observation. His subsequent essays do not stop at descriptive claims about higher education. They argue for a normative ideal about higher education. He does not describe education, he prescribes it. Neither side of this debate can avoid making normative commitments that involve meaningful logical, metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, and political implications. Dewey’s position finds no value in the universal or in theory, except insofar as it employs it in particular. He finds value only in what is considered economically, politically and vocationally advantageous to a particular person, or persons, at some time, and in some place. He holds that there is no distinction between the liberal and illiberal arts. He holds that no study is intrinsically worth knowing. He denies that knowing, as opposed to being ignorant, is valuable in itself. An account of God or the gods (theology), for example, has only instrumental value or an exchange value for Dewey.

The method for determining vocational ability is the assessment of operational competency. In Australia the competency based education (CBE) was developed to aid in the vocation education and training (VET) program. The CBE begins in the 1980s and it is officially adopted in the 1990s. Brown argues that the CBE is the product of a longer movement that began in the US. He finds the origins in the U.S. going back to the “efficiency movements” including training for workers during the First World War. He cites research grounded in U.S. education.[85] The second generation “separated achievement from timetabling.”[86] The third “variation” came with the application of B.F. Skinner’s behaviorist psychology. “The fourth generation saw the development of behavior objectives,” such as “performance,” “standard,” and “conditions.”[87] The fifth generation, he argues, focuses on “outcomes.”[88]

Ford specifies Brown’s timeline by locating the fourth generation of CBT as being a product of the “teacher education movement” in the U.S.[89] She extends Brown’s model by identifying an additional generation of competency-based education. She argues that “online learning, advances in learning analytics and adaptive learning technology, and the operationalized direct assessment models to entire college degree programs (verses post-secondary vocational education) signaled an evolutionary shift toward a sixth generation of competency-based education models.”[90] The sixth generation model, she argues, has an “increased emphasis on direct assessment of competencies rather than instructor-led courses.”[91]

In the U.S. the competence-based curriculum adopts the liberating definition. According to Bob Knott, competence may be defined as “the state of having requisite abilities or qualities.”[92] The curriculum is a set of courses or experiences designed to “assist the student in becoming competent.”[93] He suggests three primary features of such an education, 1) a statement of competencies, 2) evaluative criteria for each competency, and 3) experiences designed to assist the student in acquiring competency. The “major criterion of performance” in a competence-based liberal education is “mastery [competence] learning and not time.”[94]

Knott recognizes that his account, so far, is not sufficient, since “Mastery of a set of specific competencies does not necessarily produce a liberally educated person.”[95] The remedy, he suggests, is found in synthesizing or integrating all the competencies “into an effective whole which is more than the sum of its parts.”[96] It is more difficult to ascertain value in organic wholes than it is in their parts. Moore, in Principia Ethica, makes these challenges clear. It is possible, for instance, to add a valuable thing to an organic whole but thereby to have made the whole less valuable. The collection of competencies that Knott suggests is not simply cumulative. He claims it produces more than the sum. This is a puzzle, because in competency-based education the sum and the whole are the same. Knott’s suggestion is nothing but number. The competencies are to be quantified and summed to get the value of the relation between expected competencies and demonstrated competencies. For Knott the sum must be the whole. Attempting to smuggle in value of the whole that is not in the parts does not count. He has already denied the intrinsic value of learning. Thus the only value that a curriculum could have is an instrumental value. Still, he argues that a liberal education “refers to the competence of the person rather than the collection or possibly unrelated competencies.”[97] Accordingly, a liberal education is to produce the character trait of being competently liberated as opposed to the character trait of being incompetently liberated, or competently illiberated, or possibly incompetently iliberated.

In 1943 the Association of American Colleges (AAC) offered a report, “The Nature and Purpose of Liberal Education.” Kimball reports that the AAC disseminated the vision through 1,894 newspapers, 7,000 copies to educational organizations and they sold 6,000 to schools.[98] He states that “Despite all this effort, the report exercised little influence. For it drew from nearly every viewpoint arising in the experimentation of the early decades of the twentieth century.”[99] A version of the competency-based approach to liberal education was recently codified and adopted by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).[100] They offer the following definition “Liberal Education is an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change.”[101] They offer sixteen learning outcomes, or competencies. They are civic engagement, creative thinking, critical thinking, ethical thinking, information literacy, inquiry and analysis, integrative learning, intercultural knowledge and competence, foundations and skills for lifelong learning, oral communication, problem solving, quantificational literacy, reading, teamwork, and written communication, Competence in these areas is supposed to be a state of having the character trait of being able to “deal with complexity, diversity, and change.” As with any list it is important to note what is not on the list. Neither music nor foreign languages made the list of ELOs.

I will focus on two learning outcomes, critical thinking and quantificational literacy. It is tempting to think that these two essential learning outcomes (ELOs) are just what were called logic and math, but this is not so. Here is the definition of critical thinking; “Critical thinking is a habit of mind characterized by the comprehensive exploration of issues, ideas, artifacts, and events before accepting or formulating an opinion or conclusion.” The ELO is to be used with a rubric. It offers a 4 point scale from benchmark (1 point) to milestones (2–3 points), and capstone (4 points). The categories of assessment are; 1) explanation of issues, 2) evidence, 3) influence of context and assumptions, 4) student’s position, and 5) conclusions and related outcomes.

Critical thinking, as they use the term, is not rhetoric, oratory, or logic. A person could produce capstone level work without knowing any logic. The definition makes it seem that critical thinking is just thinking about “issues, ideas, artifacts, and events before accepting…a conclusion.” This defines one way of thinking, not critical thinking. The language of the ELO is permeated by technical terms in logic, such as “conclusion,” “assumptions.” If we add “premise” and “inference” we would have a good start on the basic concepts in logic. Forming an argument and evaluating assumptions is not critical thinking. Critical thinking is a second-order form of thinking, it is thinking about how to think. I suppose that critical thinking is among the most popular of ELOs for a professor to select, since all it requires is first-order thinking. Every college class, one expects, requires critical thinking in this sense.

“Quantitative Literacy (QL) – also known as Numeracy or Quantitative Reasoning (QR) – is a “habit of mind,” competency, and comfort in working with numerical data.” Quantitative literacy measures a habit of mind, a competence and a comfort level.  The AAC&U goes on to say that “Individuals with strong QL skills possess the ability to reason and solve quantitative problems from a wide array of authentic contexts and everyday life situations. They understand and can create sophisticated arguments supported by quantitative evidence and they can clearly communicate those arguments in a variety of formats (using words, tables, graphs, mathematical equations, etc., as appropriate).” This does not measure something done, it aims to measure how something is done. Since, it measures that a competence was done as a habit and at a certain comfort level. Verifying claims about tendencies differs from verifying claims about acts and explanations that reference tendencies are non-causal explanations. These references are problematic for a competency-based assessment, since the tendencies are not acts or observable facts in the world. Further, the QL skills make no mention of the ability to understand mathematical proofs, or to do any particular form of math at any particular level.

The AAC&U definition of “quantitative literacy” fails to distinguish arithmetic from mathematics. Arithmetic concerns the most basic number theory; adding, multiplying, subtracting and dividing. Mathematics is the study of numbers, proofs, geometry, algebra, etc. Mathematicians practice a liberal art, but accountants practice an illiberal art. Nothing in the AAC&U’s definition and assessment measures the level of mathematical knowledge or ability that a student has in any college level course in math. The critical thinking and the quantitative literacy ELOs do not measure the student’s ability to do either logic or mathematics.

Here is an example of second era general education assessment categories, there are 15 learning outcomes:

Learning Outcomes
Civic EngagementEthical reasoningKnowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world
CommunicationInformation literacyLifelong learning
Creative thinkingInquiry and analysisProblem solving
Critical ThinkingIntercultural knowledge and CompetenceQuantitative literacy
Digital literacyIntegrative learningTeamwork


I will not belabor the point with the definitions of each outcome.[102] To organize these learning outcomes there are six additional “knowledge area learning outcomes;”

Knowledge Area Learning Outcomes
Integrated learningHumanitiesLife science
Fine artsSocial and behavioral sciencePhysical science


There are two odd members of this group, integrated learning, and social and behavioral science. The remaining four subjects are traditional subject areas in the university; fine arts, humanities, and science.

The ELOs are meant to overlay the existing general education at any university. At my school, Southern Utah University, a course in information and computer literacy fulfills the integrated learning area.[103] The other areas offer a menu of options under each area, in the humanities there are thirty classes to choose from, there is no need to study logic, philosophy, or rhetoric. In the fine arts a course in ceramics completes a student’s education in the subject area. In the sciences courses in personal finance, agriculture and society, and geology of the national parks complete the requirements. This curriculum largely fulfills a student’s general education. In some systems of higher education a student can earn up to fifteen credits of GE by presenting evidence of learning to a “prior learning assessment” program. This awards credits according to the competency-based model for various forms of experience. For example, a stay-at-home parent, which is clearly an illiberal art (ars domestica), could be worth up to fifteen GE credits.[104] Though this ELO system is an overlay on any required courses in the liberal education, it makes the claim to set the standard for liberal education. Universities still require college algebra and English, which are holdovers from the first era. These requirements persist at universities in spite of the ELO approach.

At SUU there are courses required by the state that focus on content; such as English, math, and American Institutions. Often these are called “core” courses. Here we see the second era distinguishing different types of courses within a liberal education. The required subjects are all liberal arts, taking American Institutions as history, but the few required courses do not adequately represent the liberal arts. Since they admit only instrumental value, they cannot justify requiring the courses because they are liberal arts or intrinsically valuable. Having lost access to the first era argument supporting the study of English, history, and math, we need to see an argument justifying the required courses. This would delimit what sorts of subjects are properly required. The problem is more challenging than it may seem. The second era needs to show that the core courses are significantly more valuable than the non-core courses, or show that there are two different types of value within the subjects of study. If there are two types of value, we need them distinguished. If there is only one type of instrumental value, then we need to know how much value each core course adds. We need an account and justification of the core courses’ assessable value, to explain the inequitable privilege that they enjoy.

The AAC&U offers a definition of “liberal” education and other key terms, in a list of definitions that they call “often-confused terms:”

  1. Liberal Education: An approach to college learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. This approach emphasizes broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g., science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth achievement in a specific field of interest. It helps students develop a sense of social responsibility; strong intellectual and practical skills that span all major fields of study, such as communication, analytical, and problem-solving skills; and the demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.1
  2. Liberal Arts: Specific disciplines (i.e., the humanities, sciences, and social sciences).
  3. Liberal Arts College: A particular type of institution—often small, often residential—that facilitates close interaction between faculty and students, and whose curriculum is grounded in the liberal arts disciplines.
  4. Artes Liberales: The historical basis for the modern liberal arts, consisting of the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music).
  5. General Education: That part of a liberal education curriculum that is hared by all students. It provides broad exposure to multiple disciplines and forms the basis for developing essential intellectual, civic, and practical capacities. General education can take many forms, and increasingly includes introductory, advanced, and integrative forms of learning.[105]

Liberal education and general education bookend the list of definitions and they receive 131 words out of 191 among all the definitions. There are 60 words in the other three definitions on liberal arts education, and of those 16 words are in parenthesis. The list is not in alphabetical order, as seen from the first two entries. The list is not in historical order, as seen from “Artes Liberales” coming after “liberal Arts College.” Also, certain counterpart terms are not on the list, “Artes Mechanicae,” “Liberal Arts Education,” or “Liberal College.” The second through the fourth definitions present the first era. The first and fifth definitions present a second era conception of higher education. The definition of “Liberal Arts,” without the parenthetical remarks, is just “Specific disciplines.” This proposed definition is not a grammatical sentence, so it is unfit as a definition and the social sciences are not among the liberal arts. This is a second era approach to liberal education and general education. The liberal arts have an alternative approach to college or university education and to general education. The approach is not sequestered to “often small, often residential” colleges,” as the definition above describes. The liberal arts can be the foundation of general education in a school of any size, though the above definitions seem not to allow for it.

Criticism of the Second Era

Dewey is overt about the breadth of his revolution against traditional, content-based, liberal arts education. He wanted a change in terminology, moving from the term “liberal arts college” to “liberal college.” The latter term is used “not to denote just preoccupation with intellectual and ideal matters.”[106] The term also shows that “the word has taken on political and economic significance.”[107] The shift in terminology indicates the move to the “progressive” movement in education. There is no shortage of dyslogistic epithets about Dewey’s approach. Some critics charge Dewey and the other Progressives with being “anti-religious, anti-disciplinary, anti-theoretical and anti-humanistic in [their] emphasis.”[108] They continue by claiming that the progressive movement “criticized the liberal arts, scorned the tradition of liberal education, and prided itself on being realistic and present-minded.”[109] Other critics charge that they offer “ritual formulas of low intellectual caliber.”[110] The critics argue that the movement Dewey created fails to distinguish the liberal arts from the illiberal, it fails to accept the core subjects of the liberal arts, and it is more a political movement than an academic movement. It is anti-academic and anti-theoretical. It is simply “cultural education.”[111] The movement denies the intrinsic value of the liberal arts. Thereby it conflates the value in the illiberal arts with the value in the liberal arts. The only recognized value in education is its present-minded, economic, and political usefulness.

Nancy Jackson relates some of the concerns with competency-based education. Critics have claimed that it is “theoretically and methodologically vacuous,” “dysfunctional,” and “dangerous,” “scientism” and “hyperrationalism,” and it is “the misapplication of legal, scientific and managerial rationality…a pernicious concern for quasi-legal procedure, arbitrary rules, measurable outcomes, and pseudoscientific process.”[112] Surprisingly, the model has not worked well in assessment of medical and health-care professionals.[113] Despite the apparent transparence of vocational workplace skills, “the ambiguity of objectives remains ‘irremediable.”[114] If the CBE is a problematic standard for vocational training, it is not surprising that it is more problematic in higher education and even more problematic in liberal arts education. Jackson concludes that the CBE is useful as an administrative tool for reporting and managing. It is not, she argues, useful for “instructional reform.”[115]

Michael Holquist raises alarming concerns about the competency-based approach. He wonders if the model is a move “from assessment to standardization.”[116] He describes the metrics being implemented by governments in Europe. In 1999 the Bologna Declaration was ratified by twenty-nine Ministers of Education. In 2009 the Bologna Process had forty-six nations. In the United Kingdom, he reports, that The Research Assessment Exercises (RAE) forced universities to submit a report with metrics of value every five years for funding. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) contributed some to the value of the RAE. The AAC&U works with both the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) and the Lumina Foundation. These two organizations, he argues, “have been pushing the Bologna Process as a model for Americans to follow.”[117] He gives evidence that the move for standardized assessment by the AAC&U is actually part of a larger goal for a version of the Bologna Process in the U.S.[118] It might be that a nationally standardized assessment in learning outcomes, when grounded in prescribed pedagogy, results in standardized pedagogy and standardized classrooms. In America, he warns, “standardization…frequently gets downplayed or goes unacknowledged.”[119] This leaves American education largely ignorant of the larger international context and history. The ignorance opens American education to take steps that result in unintended consequences, but consequences already demonstrated elsewhere in the world.[120]

“The competence-based curriculum’s focus on specific observable and assessable learning outcomes need not substitute thinly veiled training programs for more comprehensively designed programs of liberal education.”[121] Knott is recognizing that competency-based assessment is the assessment of the trades. Vocations train a person to accomplish a task of a certain sort. To accomplish the task the person needs to know a little about words, numbers, thinking, communication skills, and teamwork. Any moderately complicated task, such as the work of an electrician, could be used to meet almost any ELO required for the “course.” This seems reminiscent of the debate between Eliot and McCosh, but now we are not arguing about coursework that is lacking because of electives among the first era liberal arts, we are arguing about whether certain illiberal arts should be included within the liberal arts under the name of liberal education.

 The Third Era

Dewey’s solutions proposed in the 1940s were rejected at the time by many academics. It is not clear that they were the proper solutions to the challenges he observed. It is clearer that they are not the solutions of the 21st century. Vocational training is a fine option for some students and academic education is fine for others. The value of a plumber, electrician, a waste-manager, or builder is demonstrated in the price. Recently a politician claimed that: “For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational training. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.”[122] His claim is factually false. In our high-tech and high-touch era, vocational education, necessary as it is, is not the path to good jobs. This century is concerned with abstraction and theory in ways unknown to the public in the 1940s. The computer is the iconic innovation of our age. Dewey would suggest that we teach children to code computers, and I agree, but not for the same reasons that he would probably have. Economics guide Dewey and coding is a marketable skill. I think computer coding should be included in a 21st century liberal arts education because it is a formal language. To learn a formal language one must understand basic math, logic, grammar, syntax and sense. The liberal arts require training in languages and training in calculation, such as math and logic. The formal languages require the mathematics, grammar and syntax of language. The formal languages do not engage literature and philosophy. Grammar in the native language and study of a second language requires knowledge of literature, philosophy and history.

Math and second language acquisition have the best claims, historically, on stating learning outcomes, administering assessment and reviewing assessment. Math has clearly defined subjects and levels. In the languages, the first stages focus on grammar and the second on literature. Philosophy is analogous to languages, since it requires logic in the first stage and philosophy in the second stage. In math, computer science, logic or grammar, there is a right and wrong of it. In literature, philosophy, or history you get it or not for better or worse. Dialectic and rhetoric govern these disciplines.

The Greeks did not include math as frequently as we might think from reading just Plato’s Republic. Morgan points out that Aristotle does not mention math in his discussion of education in the Politics. He notices the rarity of the subject in standard Greek education, “The implication is that mathematics was not a regular part of Athenian education.”[123] Rhetoric was also a controversial addition to the liberal arts, with advocated such as Isocrates and Quintilian. The requirement for a second language snuck into the liberal arts through its focus on grammar and the Roman insistence on reading Greek. Though the Greeks and Romans did not universally include mathematics, rhetoric or oration, and a second language in liberal arts education, some Greeks and Romans did. All these subjects are classically liberal and subsequent historical periods in the first era show that these subjects were incorporated into a liberal education.

The first era of liberal education sought subjects that are intrinsically valuable, liberal, theoretical, and foundational. They identified broad subject types, such as grammar, each covering a range of subjects as we distinguish them today. The middle ages and the Renaissance interpreted the liberal arts narrowly, by requiring the study of Greek and Latin. This persisted until the 1900s in the U.S. As early as 1892 the President of John Hopkins declares that “The idea of liberal education, as it was held in American colleges prior to 1862, no longer commands the unqualified respect of thoughtful men.”[124] In 1968 A.N. Whitehead recognizes this decline in the esteem of the classical ideas about education, “Whether we regret it or no, the absolute dominance of the classical ideas in education is necessarily doomed.”[125] In response to a rejection of a small core of required subjects, educators retained the core and “simply increased the number of subjects.”[126] Whitehead calls the resulting system a “scheme of studies [that] is frankly impossible.”[127] What is needed is an elegant and parsimonious core of subjects that form a contemporary liberal arts education.

The mistake that the first era made concerning the liberal arts, I think, is that it has fixed its gaze too narrowly on its objects. The Greeks were too narrow in their focus only on Greek, as was the middle-ages and subsequent eras in their focus on Greek and Latin. This requirement for study at a liberal arts college was, as we saw, the subject of much debate. Princeton held that studying Greek and Latin was essential to a liberal arts education. The arguments about the necessity of learning Greek are dead for good reason. What the Greeks recognized was the import of studying language, music, math, history and philosophy. Since the Greeks invented a liberal arts education, it might have seemed that such an education requires one to study Greek. I argue that it does not and this is the primary shortcoming of the first era. There are things to retain from this era. From the first era we should retain 1) the distinction between liberal and illiberal, theoretical and the mechanical, 2) between intrinsic value and instrumental value, 3) some subjects are foundational for learning, and 4) metrics of content-based assessment and time spent engaged in the study to establish the value of the study.

The mistake that the second era made is that it spread its gaze too broadly. This era rejects the distinction between liberal and illiberal. So it includes, or at least does not disallow, illiberal subjects. It makes additional mistakes, by taking the term “liberal education” as entailing socio–political-economic meaning. This is justification for applying a certain socio–political-economic philosophy to construct a liberal education. It denies the intrinsic value of the liberal arts and it takes the competency-based form of assessment as fit to measure liberal education. From the second era we should, however, retain; 1) the communication and coordination among universities about liberal arts education, 2) the statement of standards of assessment, 3) the evidence that the standards are being met, 4) the evidence that the standards measure value, and 5) the promotion of higher education to the community and the world.

Recognizing the narrowness or breadth of previous approaches to liberal education does not license abolishing the types of subjects that are the liberal arts or adventitiously introducing new subjects. The liberal arts focus on theory. A liberal arts course in science would focus on scientific theory and the knowledge of the central theories; in music it focuses on music theory and basic application; in math on proofs, algebra, and geometry; in languages it focuses on grammar, semantics and syntax, and then on literature; and in history and philosophy it focuses on argument, method and epochs. The emphasis on theory and away from the banausic arts helps to reveal the natural interrelations among the subjects. Math, philosophy and language, for example, are necessary for an adequate study of music. History is in the study of all the subjects. “No one can get far in physics without being familiar with trigonometry and analytic geometry.”[128] All the classical liberal arts involve a “skill in the use of symbols” in complex systems.[129] We will have less need to craft inter-disciplinary courses, when each liberal art is distinguished and approached in a way that reveals its inherent theoretical interconnectedness among the liberal arts subjects.

There is room for substantive disagreement about emphasis, such as we saw between Plato championing logic and math against Isocrates favoring rhetoric. We saw similar disagreements with the Romans including architecture, the inclusion of religion and the expansion of subjects into the trivium and quadrivium during the middle-ages, and the return to classical roots in the Renaissance. The Renaissance approach to liberal education lasted until the early 1900s in the U.S. universities will disagree about the emphasis of a program and the level of required achievement, but they should not disagree about the subjects fit for a liberal arts education. There are necessary subjects in the liberal arts. One liberal arts university might require a year of foreign language and another might require two years, for example, but both should require some foreign language, logic, math, music and the other liberal arts.[130] Given the history of liberal arts education, we can construct a third era model curriculum. The primary subjects fall into three categories:

Contemporary Subject AreasClassical Subjects
1.      Fine ArtsMusic, and physical education
2.      HumanitiesComposition, foreign language, English, history, literature, philosophy, logic and rhetoric
3.      ScienceComputer science, math, natural science, and physics


If we assume five courses in a semester this seems to total three semesters of work. Since some subjects take time to learn, such as composition, foreign language, literature, philosophy, and science, this curriculum will take four semesters. Here is a sample schedule:

Semester 1Language, science, humanities, and fine arts
Semester 2Language, science, humanities, and fine arts
Semester 3Language, science, humanities, and humanities
Semester 4Language, science, humanities, and humanities


Humanities, language, and science are in every semester, with two courses in the humanities in the third and fourth semesters. This liberal arts education is elegant, parsimonious, and principled.

Shavelson argues that assessment has “evolved” through four periods: (1) the standardized tests of learning1900–33; (2) the assessment of learning 1933–47; (3) the expansion of test providers: 1948–78; and (4) the external accountability: 1979–present.”[131] For undergraduate liberal education in the U.S. the University of Chicago College program and the Cooperative Study of Education were among the first to assess general education. The concern was that some students with college degrees were not ready for graduate studies. In 1937 a first version of the test that would become the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) was offered. The GRE tests general undergraduate education, not liberal education, and it was not a competence-based exam. When Shavelson claims that “Today’s demand for a culture of evidence of student learning appears to be new, but it turns out, as we have seen, to be very old,” he is referring to a 107 year history.[132]

The key in measuring such things is to bring the proper measure for the object to be measured. As Michael Holquist argues, “you cannot measure time with a ruler or space with a clock.”[133] To measure the worth of a literary education, he argues, we need to measure an entire lifetime. He closes by lamenting that: “When a tape measure or stopwatch or metronome is invented that will succeed in making the study of literature precisely measurable, it will have become another thing. If that happens, our children will look back at what it was and weep for its loss.”[134]

Moore’s discussion of intrinsic value and organic wholes generated a prolonged debate.[135] There are metaethical concerns about intrinsic value. They focus on whether there is such a quality, what sort of quality it is and, epistemologically, how we can know of it. There are normative ethical concerns that focus on the function of intrinsic value in a theory, its calculus of value, and its relation to extrinsic and instrumental value. There are concerns about how intrinsic values apply to practical circumstances and how they function in decision. The concerns from metaethics, normative ethics and applied ethics are ongoing, with partisans on each side of the debate. Dewey notes the ambiguity of the term and, for those who use it, he calls for an overt justification.

History offers many attempts to justify the use of the term. A full defense of the term is beyond the scope of this paper. In value theory there remains a basic distinction between things valued in themselves and things valued instrumentally. Dewey seems to call for a justification by those using the term, but he goes further. He rejects the existence of intrinsic value, by rejecting any philosophical theory that posits such values.[136] He offers a descriptive account of value, by arguing that people adopt instrumental value in their use of the term. This shows that people value some things instrumentally. This same criterion shows that some people value some things intrinsically, since there are descriptive applications of the term to concepts and states of affairs. The descriptive account, however, does not do the necessary work. The two sides debate whether there are intrinsic values, not whether there are people who hold that something has intrinsic value. It is possible that some people value things that are not valuable and some people fail to value valuable things. Something taken to have instrumental value owes its value outside of itself. Money is valuable, for example, because it facilitates obtaining things that one values.[137] Whether the things that one values are valuable or not remains in need of additional justification. Here X is valued for Y and Y for Z and so on. This line of argument leads to an infinite regress. At some point the argument hits an intuition or basic premise. Both sides in the debate need to show that the valued things are valuable, whether the things are thought to be intrinsically or instrumentally valuable.

I am inclined to posit intrinsic value; because it is persistent and functional in a wide variety of contexts, because there are various types of valuable things, and because of the incommensurability of values. Philosophers argue for higher and lower pleasures, actions done for themselves and actions done for instrumental reasons, and states of being such as virtue verses vice, or knowing verses ignorance. The study of value has distinguished many different types of value, in addition to intrinsic and extrinsic types. Challenges to the commensurability of values indicate that the various valuable things are different in kind and not simply in degree. These factors lead to the conclusion that it is more likely that there are intrinsic values than not. So I recognize “Ars gratia artis,” which is a back-translation of the French phrase “l’art pour l’art,” as meaningful expressions of the intrinsic value of art. Similar locutions arise about knowledge, such as “knowledge for the sake of knowledge.” In the second era, knowing is valuable only instrumentally and works of art are valuable only for their market value. Supporters of intrinsic value can accept that there is instrumental value in these things, without denying that they are valuable in other ways too.

If there are intrinsically valuable things, calculating their value must differ from calculating the value of instrumentally valuable things. Instrumentally valuable things have exchange value, intrinsically valuable things do not. There has been and still is a method. The way to measure the value of intrinsically valuable activities, has long been a function of the time spent engaged in the activity, plus the ability demonstrated in the engagement and the ability to apply the activity in new circumstances. Competence-based assessment did not invent assessment and it did not invent evidence of education. Content-based assessment is an alternative that was abandoned, not because it failed. It was abandoned for the sake of politics and vocational training. It is not as if people recognized that the students at liberal arts colleges had learned nothing worth learning. Instead, a pragmatic and behaviorist movement in the philosophy of education abandoned liberal arts education for reasons having little or nothing to do with academics. There has always been assessment in the liberal arts. A qualified judge evaluates a student’s depth and ability over time while engaged in the liberal arts. Part of the value of studying a liberal art is the time spent in any intrinsically valuable activity.

If we focus on assessment, foreign language has one of the longest and best assessment tools. Languages move from an assessment of grammar to an assessment of interpretive literary ability. The grammar assessment is kindred to math and logic, but the literary assessment is kindred to literature, philosophy and history. If we are concerned about assessment in liberal education, then foreign languages is an existent model. Mathematics also has specific assessments of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. As we saw, however, the ELOs do not include a foreign language requirement and they do not specify any level of mathematics.


Elizabeth Steiner defines general education as “common education, education that should be for any human being and so for all human beings.”[138] This definition of general education is also a definition of liberal education. She says, “Liberal education, being education for democracy, hence is general education.”[139] The terms “general education” and “liberal education” are widely used as synonyms. My school is designated as “the liberal arts university” in the Utah System of Higher Education, yet it delivers a liberal education. Here the terms “liberal arts education,” “liberal education,” and “general education” are conflated. We now see that all three terms are being conflated. This occurred because both liberal arts colleges and liberal, vocational, colleges offer a general education. This allowed the terms to seemingly merge seamlessly into one. Liberal arts universities offered a required curriculum in the liberal arts in addition to a student’s focal study. Over time the required curriculum was condensed first into three years and then into two years of general education. With the popularity of liberal education and the condensation of a liberal arts education into a two year program, all the terms and practices become conflated. The junior colleges deliver the general education requirements, such that they complete the first two years of the general education requirements at a university. The junior college, however, was established to deliver an illiberal education. We need to disentangle these terms.

Junior colleges offer vocational training. The community college delivers the two year Associates degree and it functions as fulfilling the GE requirements for the BS degree. It does not satisfy the BA degree. Only the BA corresponds to a liberal arts education. The BS lacks the language requirement, among other things. The BS degree comes in as the “poor cousin” of the BA degree.[140] In 1838 Wesleyan introduced the BS and in 1851 Harvard offered a BS.[141] In the 19th century the BA degree requires the study of Greek or Latin, but the BS degree does not.[142] Today the BA is distinguished from the BS by requiring a foreign language, though the language is no longer delimited to be either Greek or Latin. Distinguishing these terms allows us to distinguish a liberal arts education and a liberal education from a general education and it shows the difference between a liberal arts general education and a liberal general education.

As we saw, the first and second eras propose their definitions of university education and of general education. In response, I propose a third era model that applies to only BA degrees and the accompanying GE. The degrees may fold into any major area of study in any college at a university. The third era system is not an augmentation or modification to the competence-based GE. It is an alternative system grounded in the historical legacy of the first era approach to the liberal arts. It adopts an alternative evaluative system, rather than vocational competency-based assessment it adopts content-based assessment over time. There is a fundamental disagreement about value between the first and second eras. Whether the third era system presents a valuable form of education is determined by the philosophical conception of value being applied to the measure.

There is a sense of hopelessness among faculty of the liberal arts, the fine arts, and the languages. Robert Spiller’s observation in 1942 echoes today, “high education of any kind, but particularly that which has no specific vocational aim, is always threatened in time of war.”[143] The liberal arts are again in a time of war, a war against terror that seems endless, and they are again fighting for their lives. Liberal education has rejected liberal arts education. Centralized organizations such as the AAC&U work with university administrators to codify the philosophy of value and the systems of measure or assessment. These systems are then implemented through “shared governance” in the universities. If we combine our observations from the first era; we distinguish liberal and illiberal arts, we retain the concept of intrinsic value, we hold that some subjects are foundational for learning, we adopt a content-based assessment, and we value the time spent engaged in the study. In the second era we should maintain; the communication and coordination among universities, the explicitness of the standards of assessment, and the need to provide evidence that the standards are being met. These features are able to guide various alternative iterations of a 21st century liberal arts education.



[1] We do not know the curriculum at the Academy sufficiently to outline its specific version of a liberal arts education. There are a couple of similarities between the account in the Republic and the Academy worth mentioning. Both stressed the study of dialectic and the willingness to admit women into education. See Diogenes Laertius. 1972. Lives of Eminent Philosophers, vol. 1. Bk. III. Hicks trans. Cambridge: Loeb Classical Library. 46. Special thanks to Nickolas Pappas and Matthew Smith for helpful comments on this paper.

[2] All references from: Plato. 1992. Plato’s Republic. G.M.A. Grube trans. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing. 521b–c.

[3] Ibid., 522a.

[4] Vlastos. 1941. “Slavery in Plato’s Thought.” Philosophical Review. vol. 50 no. 3. 289–304, 289.

[5] Republic, 395c–e.

[6] Ibid., 521d.

[7] Ibid., 527d.

[8] Ibid., 521c–d.

[9] Ibid., 530b–c.

[10] Cartwright, Nancy. 1983. How the Laws of Physics Lie. New York: Oxford University Press.

[11] Republic, Bk. II.

[12] Ibid., 357b–c.

[13] Ibid., 612–613.

[14] All references to Isocrates’ texts are from the Isocrates volumes in the Loeb Classical Library. Isocrates. 1928. Isocrates vol. I. Panegyricus. George Norlin, Loeb Classical Library. number 209. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 49.

[15] Isocrates. 1929. Isocrates vol. II. Panathenaicus. George Norlin. Loeb Classical Library. number 229. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 26–29.

[16] Ibid., 26-29.

[17] Isocrates. 1929. Isocrates vol. II. Antidosis. George Norlin. Loeb Classical Library. number 229. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 262.

[18] Ibid., 265.

[19] Ibid., 267.

[20] All references to Aristotle’s works are from Aristotle. 1984. The Complete Works of Aristotle. Politics. Barnes. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 8.3.1337b24–26.

[21] Politics, 1337b2–12.

[22] Liddell and Scott. 1889. An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, 7th edition. New York: Oxford at the Clarendon Press. 146.

[23] Furnivall. 1989. The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 162 on sub-page 646.

[24] Nightingale. 2001. “Liberal Education in Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics.” Yun Lee Too ed., Education in Greek and Roman Antiquity. Leiden: Brill Publications. 133-173, 134.

[25] Ibid., 134.

[26] Politics, 1342a25–1342b17.

[27] Ibid., 1337b-16.

[28] Ibid., 1338b.

[29] Ibid., 1338b2-3.

[30] Ibid., 1341b9-15.

[31] Ibid., 1339b35–38.

[32] Metaphysics I.1, 980a22–24.

[33] Rhetoric, 1354a1.

[34] Ibid., 1355b.

[35] Ibid., 1355b26.

[36] Ibid., 1356a25–30.

[37] Kimball, Bruce. 2010. The Liberal Arts Tradition, A Documentary History. Latham: University Press of America. 60.

[38] Ibid., 21.

[39] Ibid., 20.

[40] Quintilian. Education of the Orator. 11.

[41] Ibid., 18.

[42] Seneca. On Liberal and Vocational Studies. 20.

[43] Kimball, 159–168.

[44] Kimball, 195.

[45] Herbst, Jurgen. 2004. “The Yale Report of 1828.” International Journal of the Classical Tradition. vol. 11. No. 2. fall. 213–231, 218.

[46] Ibid., 221.

[47] Ibid., 221–222.

[48] Ibid., 223.

[49] Kimball, 332.

[50] Ibid., 330–31.

[51] Ibid., 332.

[52] Ibid., 331.

[53] Ibid., 331.

[54] Ibid., 327.

[55] Ibid., 340–1.

[56] Ibid., 340–41.

[57] Ibid., 340–41.

[58] 7 U.S.C. § 304, “” accessed 8/1/2016.

[59] As the concerns continued after the inception of the department, they resulted in swift changes to the department in its first years. On June 30, 1869 the “Department of Education” was downgraded to the “Office of Education.” This change downgraded it and removed its independence, by placing the “Office of Education” under the “Department of the Interior.” In 1870 the Office of Education was renamed the “Bureau of Education” and it remained so named until 1929. In that year the bureau returned to its previous designation as the “Office of Education” and it remained in the Department of the Interior until 1939. In that year the Office of Education was moved to the Federal Security Agency (FSA), where it remained until 1953, when it moved to a newly created “Department of Health, Education and Welfare” (HEW). In 1979 the HEW was divided into two cabinet level departments, the “Department of Education” and the “Department of Health and Human Services.” Both departments remain among the fifteen presidential cabinet level departments to this day.

[60] From the American Association of Junior Colleges: accessed 8/15/2016

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Kimball, 372.

[64] Ibid., 373.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Ibid., 409.

[67] Their charge was:1. to strengthen the Federal commitment to ensuring access to equal educational opportunity for every individual; 2. to supplement and complement the efforts of States, the local school systems and other instrumentalities of the States, the private sector, public and private educational institutions, public and private nonprofit educational research institutions, community-based organizations, parents, and students to improve the quality of education; 3. to encourage the increased involvement of the public, parents, and students in Federal education programs; 4 to promote improvements in the quality and usefulness of education through federally supported research, evaluation, and sharing of information; 5. to improve the coordination of Federal education programs; 6. to improve the management and efficiency of Federal education activities, especially with respect to the process, procedures, and administrative structures for the dispersal of Federal funds, as well as the reduction of unnecessary and duplicative burdens and constraints, including unnecessary paperwork, on the recipients of Federal funds; and 7. to increase the accountability of Federal education programs to the President, the Congress and the public. Section 102, Public Law 96–88. “” accessed 8/15/2016.

[68] “” accessed 8/1/2016.

[69] Dewey, John. 1989. “The Problem of the Liberal Arts College.” John Dewey: The Later Works, 19251953. vol. 15: 1942–1948. Boydston. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. 276. See also Knott, Bob. 1975. “What is Competence-Based Curriculum in the Liberal Arts?” The Journal of Higher Education. vol. 46. No. 1. Jan.–Feb. 25–40, 27.

[70] Knott, 27.

[71] Dewey, 276.

[72] Ibid., 261 and 273.

[73] Dewey, John. 1989. “The Ambiguity of ‘Intrinsic Good.” John Dewey: The Later Works, 19251953. vol. 15: 1942–1948. Boydston. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. 42–45.

[74] Ibid., 43. The italics are in Dewey’s text.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Ibid., 42.

[77] Ibid., 44.

[78] Dewey, 261.

[79] Ibid., 262. Dewey’s response is a tu quo que.

[80] Ibid., 279 and 280.

[81] Ibid., 280.

[82] Ibid., 262.

[83] Ibid. His position is noted as historically “radical.” In another tu quo que he argues that the current form of education is equally radical.

[84]Knott, 27.

[85] Ford, Kate. 2014. “Competency-Based Education, History, Opportunities, and Challenges.” UMUC Center for Innovation in Learning and Student Success (CILSS). 1.

[86] Brown, Mike ed. 1994. “An Introduction to the Discourse on Competency-Based Training (CBT).” in A Collection of Original Essays on Curriculum for the Workplace. EAE604 Curriculum and Competencies. Brown ed. Melbourne: Deakin University. 10.

[87] Ibid.

[88] Ibid.

[89] Ford, 1.

[90] Ibid., 3.

[91] Ibid.

[92] Knott, 28.

[93] Ibid.

[94] Ibid.

[95] Ibid., 29.

[96] Ibid.

[97] Ibid.

[98] Kimball, 409.

[99] Ibid., 409.

[100] The AAC&U was originally called the AAC,” accessed 8/15/2016.


[102] See “” for the definitions. accessed 8/1/2016

[103] Accessed 8/15/2016.

[104] accessed 8/15/2016

[105] I added the numbers to the list, see accessed 8/1/2016

[106] Kimball, 394

[107] Ibid.

[108] Ibid.

[109] Ibid.

[110] Ibid., 395

[111] Ibid., 394

[112] Brown, 135, 137–138.

[113] Ford, 2

[114] Jackson, Nancy. 1994. “If Competence is the Answer, What is the Question?” A Collection of Original Essays on Curriculum for the Workplace, EAE604 Curriculum and Competencies. Brown ed. Melbourne: Deakin University. 135–149, 139.

[115] Ibid., 136.

[116] Holquist, Michael. 2011. “Measuring the Humanities: The Slippery Slope from Assessment to Standardization,” in Literary Study, Measurement, and the Sublime: Disciplinary Assessment, Heiland and Rosenthal eds. The Teagle Foundation. 69–94.

[117] Ibid., 78.

[118] Ibid., 78–79.

[119] Ibid., 77.

[120] Ibid., 77.

[121] Knott, 30.

[122] See, “” accessed 8/1/2016.

[123] Morgan, 1999. “Literature Education in Classical Athens.” The Classical Quarterly. vol. 49. no. 1. 46–61, 52.

[124] Kimball, 301. See also fn. 9 on 301.

[125] Whitehead, A.N. 1968. “Mathematics in Liberal Education.” The Mathematics Teacher. vol. 61, no. 5, May. 509–516, 510.

[126] Ibid., 510.

[127] Ibid., 510.

[128] Kimball, 331

[129] Johnson, Norman. 1945. “An Analytic Definition of Liberal Education.” The Classical Journal. vol. 41. no. 1. Oct. 12–15, 13.

[130] Subsequent counterproposals, such as that from Martha Nussbaum, hold that liberal education is meant to help the student follow Socrates’ command, borrowed from the temple at Delphi, to “know yourself.” The goal, in part, of Nussbaum’s approach to liberal education is to produce a student with self-knowledge and she offers a method to educate such students. Nussbaum, Martha. 1997. Cultivating Humanity, A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

[131] Shavelson, Richard. 2007. “A Brief History of Student Learning Assessment, How We Got Where We Are and a Proposal for Where to Go Next.” AAC&U. 5. Available at: “”

[132] Ibid., 23.

[133] Holquist, 80.

[134] Ibid., 86.

[135] Zimmerman, Michael J. 2015. “Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Value.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Spring. Zalta ed. accessed 8/1/2016.

[136] Dewey, 272.

[137] Dewey cites Locke’s claim that silver is intrinsically valuable. Locke is distinguishing value in usefulness in the life of man from exchange value. This is not the distinction with which we are concerned. See, Uzgalis, William. 2016. “John Locke” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Spring. Zalta ed. “” accessed 8/1/2016

[138] Steiner, Elizabeth. 1984. “Toward a Conception of the Role of the Arts in Liberal Education.” Studies in Art Education. vol. 26. no. 1. Autumn. 5–13, 6. Also see Knott, 27.

[139] Ibid., 6.

[140] Kimball, 276.

[141] Ibid.

[142] Ibid.

[143] Ibid. This quotes, Spiller. 1942. “Higher Education and the War.” The Journal of Higher Education. 13. 287.


This is from Why the Humanities Matter: In Defense of Liberal Education. Also available is Lee Trepanier’s “Why the Humanities Matter” and “The Relevance of Political Philosophy and Political Science.” Our review of the book is available here.

Kirk FitzpatrickKirk Fitzpatrick

Kirk Fitzpatrick

Kirk Fitzpatrick is an Associate Editor of VoegelinView, Associate Professor of Philosophy, and former Director of the Grace A. Tanner Center at Southern Utah University (2012-16). He is author of A Philosophical Reader on Moral Weakness: Akrasia, Weakness of Will, and Practical Irrationality (Linus, 2009).

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