Liberal Education Liberal Arts Education Whole Person Trivium Quadrivium Humanities
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This paper addresses the question whether liberal arts education and the humanities can currently be used to build university reputations. Laudatory in its connotations, the phrase, “Educating the Whole Person,” is widely used in heterogeneous liberal education programs to describe the purpose or function of these programs. Would the history of liberal education be useful to sort out the current meanings of the phrase, and can the phrase be used to raise the stature of educational institutions? The paper finds that in undergraduate education, learning to be a knower across disciplines is closely identified with an education of the whole person through the liberal arts. Yet, developed parallel to the historical inquiry of the phrase’s meaning is a steady erosion of the liberal arts structuring education, as disciplines subordinate or replace those arts with their own specialized concerns. Ultimately, this subordination has meant that the humanities have turned inward, away from public, cultural involvement that historically characterized the liberal arts. Instead, the humanities might re-focus upon the liberal arts, which have historically addressed both the arts and sciences, as a public expression of what it is to be a knower and, thus, help to build university reputations through educating the whole person.