Democracy, Leadership, and the Role of Liberal Education
The topic of a liberal education comes up periodically here on HT. It is usually conservatives/Trumplicans that bring it up in order to disparage it. For instance, they complain that a liberal education doesn't adequately train students for specific jobs and therefore it is somewhat irrelevant to our modern world. And that is sometimes cited as a major reason why the free college/university idea offered by several recent campaigners is a waste of time and of the taxpayers' monies.
Fortunately, not every poster agrees. Included below is an excerpt from the AACU (Association of American Colleges and Universities) which argues that the maintenance of democracy depends on an educated citizenship (paraphrase of a Jeffersonian idea).
Please note that in this article, the role of education in a democracy has nothing to do with training students for specific jobs.
". . . [I]f such decisions as affairs of state are to be left directly to citizens or their elected representatives, the need for citizens to be educated assumes profound importance. Education in this vision of democracy calls on the classical notion of an informed citizenry--individuals who are able to think, reason, analyze, and reflect with discrimination and care.
[. . .]
The tenets of liberal education are the basis for an educated citizenry--in this or any other climate. This is true not because through liberal education we offer answers, but because we are so good at asking questions, at holding competing ideas, and wrestling with complex conditions like the situation in which we presently find our country. On the one hand, we value civil liberties; on the other hand, we recognize the need for heightened national security. On the one hand, we understand the moral and practical uncertainty of engaging in war against an idea that has neither a constant face nor is limited to a single country; on the other hand, we see the need to subdue those who have already attacked us. . . . On the one hand, we admit that we have too often exported capitalism instead of democracy; on the other hand, we realize that those proclaiming a jihad are not interested in democratic human rights. And, on the one hand, we seek to understand the motives of those who would attack us; on the other hand, we remember from 1939 the lessons of appeasement to those bent on genocide.
Questioning, exploring, stating the unpopular, challenging poorly reasoned theories, wrestling with convoluted and contradictory positions--this is what liberal education asks us to do. And it is exactly what is needed in the present environment, as we struggle with competing and complex ideas. . . .
Another important role for our colleges and universities is to embrace the notion of educating the whole student. This is not a new idea, but it has rarely been so obvious that support and education for the whole student are needed. Our traditional-age students, after all, are the ones that have been insulated from American wars, the ones who are at conventional draft age, the ones who have been accused of focusing on consumption rather than service. . . . We need to provide our students with the personal and intellectual support to become engaged citizens in this democracy.
Finally, our colleges and universities can provide the outreach, research, and intellectual capital necessary to inform our national policy making. . . . In the present environment, there is a clear need for thoughtful, well-researched, seriously debated policy and scientific consideration. What are the lessons of our Middle East policy to date? What are the consequences of creating military coalitions with repressive states? How do we conduct a war against a movement rather than a country? How do we create meaningful civil defense? What would a modern day Marshall Plan look like, and could it possibly work? What methods do we have to combat bioterrorism? . . .
In addition to providing intellectual expertise on these questions, higher education has a strong tradition of outreach and exchange that can aid in furthering international understanding. From the Fulbright scholars program to junior year abroad schemes to foreign exchange programs, we invite students and faculty alike to engage on a personal level with the culture and academic world of other nations. These programs need to be supported and expanded; we should not succumb to a natural inclination toward isolation that the current climate could breed.
[. . .]
. . . David Held argues that "democracy is a remarkably difficult form of government to create and sustain." Liberal education has played and will continue to play an important role in sustaining our democratic form of government."
I could have posted this at the tale-end of one of these current debates, but I feared too many posters might miss it, so I'm putting it here for easy access.
Go to it--and ponder. : )