Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Thu, 27 May 1993

As I traveled the darkened streets in solitude, I was pondering passages from Hamlet and Julius Caesar. In Act I, Scene III, of Hamlet, Polonius says to his son, Laertes: "For the apparel oft proclaims the man." Does, then, the mere taking of a core of liberal arts courses or even a liberal arts major proclaim the enriched spirit and mental agility of a person? I wish it did, but there isn't an automatic and exclusive impact by such core courses or programs on a person.

Liberal arts is not a course or a major or a program. It is not a class, but what takes place inside the classroom and what is generated within the student. It is an attitude, a spirit that permeates every fiber of a person's being, that creates a place of questions and initiates the first steps towards wisdom. A liberal arts curriculum should be judged by that ethereal and more difficult measurement of what the student has become, the centrally defining attributes of character which energize and give direction to native talent. But, that requires that professors lead the way. They must first have a vision and then give it life in the imagination of the students.

Yet, students are led down isolated, barrel-visioned, pre-determined paths overloaded with "courses appropriate to the major." Liberal arts core courses are often paid little more than lip service. Students are led to believe that every course must have a utilitarian vocational value. They and professors are too often infected with what I call "I don't need it for the major" syndrome. Departments and schools vie with each other for body counts. Classes are so stylized that few stand free and are alive. Professors package and filter information to students who are under considerable pressure to please them. Professors fearfully seek to please students. Professors divert their energies from the classroom to research and publication. And so, it's not all that clear that most present-day institutions of higher learning are the best places to acquire a liberal education; or that studying the liberal arts has a guaranteed meaningful connection with the enrichment of a student. And the "fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
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