The Need for Liberal Arts Education
Richard Layton’s Discussion Group
by Flo Wineriter
The Autumn 2006 issue of the Wilson Quarterly featured a scholarly essay by Michael Lind, Whitehead Senior Fellow at the New American Foundation, exploring the demise of Liberal Arts curriculum at many universities. Lind maintains that never has a broad liberal education been more necessary than it is today, and never have colleges and universities done such a poor job of delivering it.
Liberal education is a general education in the humanities, music, the arts, and the classic great books plus the scholarly disciplines of logic, reasoning and rhetoric that prepares one for citizenship rather than a vocation or career. Liberal Arts formed the basis of Western higher education from the Renaissance to the early 20th century but has been almost completely demolished by the demand for professional careerists.
The author reminds us that in the late 19th century it was the practice to go from high school directly to professional training. Lawyers and doctors held only undergraduate degrees.
Following the end of World War I changes in requirements for admittance to professional schools took place at Harvard and Columbia; they required undergraduate degrees for students applying to their medical, law, and other professional schools. Many universities eventually followed suit. Following World War II the nation’s economy and job market demanded more highly trained workers and college campuses began to be more utilitarian oriented, vocational training ground. Liberal arts studies gave way to political science, economics, and the creative arts.
With the emphasis on the flat earth economy more and more of the jobs being created in the United States today are low- wage, low-prestige, service sector jobs that do not require college training. This means fewer people will have the means or the desire to attend college and will miss even an introduction to the liberal arts still available in undergraduate college courses. With the classic belief that knowledge of the liberal arts is necessary for good citizenship it is time to develop a Liberal Arts curriculum for our nation’s high schools. Since high schools are free and mandatory every citizen would then receive a liberal arts education learning to read, write, and reason.
At our holiday celebration dinner December 14, 2006, former chapter president Flo Wineriter made the following remarks during the open mike period.
I would like to spend a few minutes thinking out loud about the positive aspects of our humanist philosophy. I believe that can best be done by reading the inspiring words of two great American humanists. First, the words of a song written by the founder of the American Humanist Association, the Humanists of Utah, and a minister of this Unitarian Church in the 1940’s, Edwin H. Wilson. The title of his song is: Where is Our Holy Church?
Where is our holy church?
Where race and class unite as equal brothers in the search for beauty, truth, and right.
Where is our holy writ?
Where’er a human heart a sacred torch of truth has lit, by inspiration taught.
Where is our holy man?
A mighty host respond; For good men rise in every land to break the captive’s bond.
Where is our holy land?
Within the human soul, wherever strong men truly seek with character the goal.
Where is our paradise?
In aspiration’s sight, wherein we hope to see arise ten thousand years of light.
Ed Wilson’s song exemplifies his high regard for human potential.
Another respected humanist scholar, Robert Ingersoll, glorified human intelligence in an essay on morality. He wrote:
What is morality? In this world we need certain things. We have many wants. We are exposed to many dangers. We need food, fuel, raiment, and shelter, and besides these wants, there is, what may be called, the hunger of the mind.
Happiness, including its highest forms, is after all the only good, and everything, the result of which is to produce or secure happiness, is good, that is to say, moral. Everything that destroys or diminishes well-being is bad, that is to say, immoral. In other words, all that is good is moral, and all that is bad is immoral.
What then is, or can be called, a moral guide? The shortest possible answer is one word: Intelligence.
We cannot depend on what are called “inspired books,” or the religions of the world. These religions are based on the supernatural, and according to them we are under obligation to worship and obey some supernatural being, or beings. All these religions are inconsistent with intellectual liberty. They are the enemies of thought, of investigation, of mental honesty. They destroy the manliness of man. They promise eternal rewards for belief, for credulity, for what they call faith.
And all “inspired books,” teaching that only those who obey the commands of the supernatural are, or can be, truly virtuous, and that unquestioning faith will be rewarded with eternal joy, are grossly immoral.
Again I say: Intelligence is the only moral guide.
It is my hope that the ideals of these two humanist pioneers will inspire us to proudly explain and exclaim the principles of humanism.
Ode to Language
Christmas 2006 Greetings
When in the course of human events it’s time to write a verse
I’d love to be a Milton or a Shakespeare, but I’m worse.
I’d love to think of mighty words like “fourscore and twenty years!”
Or “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, please lend me your ears.”
Though Juliet mused, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Speaking in iambic pentameter is really quite a feat.
So common speech is fine for occasions big and little.
We shouldn’t have to worry about every jot and tittle.
But Lord, what fools these mortals be who defile their mother tongue,
Whom, between you and me, ought to be took out and hung.
The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things,
Including all the slings and arrows that such defilement brings.
So listen, my children and you shall hear of acronyms for words,
Like URL and BPS used by computer nerds.
Legal lingo like “recuse” is heard in courts and foyers.
The first thing we should do is let’s kill all the lawyers.
I also think a thing of beauty is a joy forever.
“Delta Center” is okay, “EnergySolutions Arena” never.
We hold this truth to be self-evident that spin is not admired.
“You’re doing a heckuva job, Brownie” just means that you’re being fired.
A cakewalk, liberators, WMD they said,
And fools rushed in where angels feared to tread.
Now is the winter of our discontent with our uniter, not divider.
But we’ll stay the course, we cannot cut and run from our decider.
As Dubya’s speech gets curiouser and curiouser
All English lovers get furiouser and furiouser.
Those who misuse language make these times that try men’s souls
And Santa Claus, on Christmas Eve, should fill their socks with coals.
But now that winter’s come, can spring be far behind?
Yeah, it can if you’re not charitable to me and kind.
I know this poem’s told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
But I’ve been very busy and had to write it in a hurry.
I could’ve written it and put it on the shelf,
But I know the only thing I have to fear is fear itself.
Some enchanted evening I would like to write some words
That sing before a king like twenty-four blackbirds.
I may have erred to write this literate poem of mine
But remember to err is human, to forgive is most divine.
And so with malice toward none; with charity for all,
Please accept this Christmas poem without a loud catcall.
Please don’t gnash your teeth and think me full of vice.
See not the mote that’s in my eye but a pearl of great price.
Thou canst not be false to me if to thine own self you are true.
And I in turn the best of all possible worlds wish for you.
So when the party’s over go gently into that sweet night,
To your warm and comfy homes beneath the stars and bright moonlight.
I hate to see the party end, parting’s such sweet sorrow,
But here’s to tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.
Since brevity is the soul of wit I’ll say if I might,
Merry Christmas to you all, and to you all, good night.
I Am an Agnostic
My decision has been made and it is that I require empirical evidence for either the existence or non-existence of any supernatural being. Until that evidence is forthcoming, I do not know and cannot know any answers to questions about that existence.
In addition to that, I am comfortable not knowing. That does not mean that I don’t care. It just means that I understand that one can know certain things and not know others and one does not gain anything by filling in the blanks with wishful thinking or with beliefs. I pursue knowledge with the understanding that I will not know everything by the time my brain shuts down into oblivion. That understanding does not reduce my enjoyment in learning everything that I can reasonably learn in the meantime.
November 22, 2006
Pandora: The Music Genome Project
Member Recommended Websites
This month’s featured site is Pandora a concept created by the Music Genome Project. Supply the site with artists and/or songs that you like and it will play similar music for your enjoyment. If it chooses something you don’t like, tell it and it will better understand your tastes.