GREENLEAF-‘LIBERAL ARTS EDUCATION AND…’ PART I

As an educator I continue to be drawn to a talk that Greenleaf gave at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1974. Yesterday I re-read and reflected again upon Greenleaf’s words and decided to quote extensively from his talk (he wrote his talk out and saved it as an essay). In addition to quoting extensively from his talk I will, at times, offer us some questions to consider and if an aside comment emerges into my consciousness I might offer it for our consideration. I do invite you, gentle reader, to make note of the questions and observations that emerge from within you as your read and reflect upon Greenleaf’s words.

Greenleaf writes: …I am aware that there is an unusual level of concern, and justifiably so, for the vocational and career outlook of many students. And this concern has raised questions about the adequacy of the college experience as preparation for the conditions that students now face after they leave college. I have been asked many questions in the hope that I could give answers that will give greater assurance for the future. I have no answers to most of these questions, partly because I am of another generation that has not experienced the problem as it is seen today, partly because I believe many of these questions are unanswerable except as one ventures into an experience and learns to respond, in the situation, to the immediate problems one confronts.

Greenleaf continues: …I would argue that, in a good society, every person who is capable of being educated at all should be liberally educated first, and without direct reference to any specific societal role, but with general reference to all of them. Professional or vocational education would be added to that.

Having made that assertion I am in the same trouble as any who asset such things: what do I mean by liberal education in this sense, and can what I mean be translated into how faculties might better design a liberal arts education and how students might better cope with what faculties have designed?

How many current college and university undergraduate students today are ‘concerned’ when they consider their ‘career outlook’? A number of years ago I had the privilege of addressing 200 undergraduate senior business majors in a large university. I asked, by show of hands, how many of them thought they had chosen the wrong major. More than 50% raised their hands. I asked how many of them believed they were now prepared to contribute to the ‘world of work’ and fewer than 20% raised their hands. I then asked how many of them were prepared to continue on to graduate school and, again, about 20% raised their hands. From their input, it seemed that too many of these young folks felt they had to commit to a major well before they were ready to do so – a focus on the liberal arts for the first two years might have helped a number of them become more intentional and purposeful when it came to choosing a major area of study. I wonder what the responses to my questions would reveal today?

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