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Beyond the University

Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Beyond the University
    Book Description:

    Contentious debates over the benefits-or drawbacks-of a liberal education are as old as America itself. From Benjamin Franklin to the Internet pundits, critics of higher education have attacked its irrelevance and elitism-often calling for more vocational instruction. Thomas Jefferson, by contrast, believed that nurturing a student's capacity for lifelong learning was useful for science and commerce while also being essential for democracy. In this provocative contribution to the disputes, university president Michael S. Roth focuses on important moments and seminal thinkers in America's long-running argument over vocational vs. liberal education.Conflicting streams of thought flow through American intellectual history: W. E. B. DuBois's humanistic principles of pedagogy for newly emancipated slaves developed in opposition to Booker T. Washington's educational utilitarianism, for example. Jane Addams's emphasis on the cultivation of empathy and John Dewey's calls for education as civic engagement were rejected as impractical by those who aimed to train students for particular economic tasks. Roth explores these arguments (and more), considers the state of higher education today, and concludes with a stirring plea for the kind of education that has, since the founding of the nation, cultivated individual freedom, promulgated civic virtue, and instilled hope for the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-20655-5
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    WHEN I BEGAN my freshman year at Wesleyan University almost forty years ago, I had only the vaguest notion of what a liberal education was. My father (like his father before him) was a furrier, and my mother sang with a big band before she decided to start a family. Giving their children access to a college education was part of their American dream, even if campuses sometimes seemed to them like foreign countries. Now I serve as president of the same institution at which they first dropped me off, and where I stumbled into courses like Intro to Philosophy...

  5. 1. From Taking in the World to Transforming the Self
    (pp. 19-61)

    WE AMERICANS HAVE strong yet ambivalent feelings about education. We believe in its necessity, but we aren’t sure how to measure its success. We know it’s important for our economy and culture, but we don’t trust what it does to our kids. We are as committed to learning as we are to freedom, but we are made nervous that too much learning, like too much freedom, can be a form of corruption. Every week the newspapers, magazines, and blogs are filled with stories that display the dysfunction of our K-12 educational system; we read about good schools striving to produce...

  6. 2. Pragmatism: From Autonomy to Recognition
    (pp. 62-94)

    JEFFERSON AND EMERSON set high ideals for liberal education in America. Learning prepared one for autonomy and for citizenship. Learning also led one away from the crowd; it helped one escape mere imitation and opened access to authenticity. Finally, education was meant to offer us the opportunity to discover the kinds of work we would find meaningful. For both Jefferson and Emerson, however, these arguments about education were mostly relevant to upper- and (perhaps) middle-class students. How relevant is it to talk about “finding meaningful work” when available work might necessarily involve drudgery and worse? How relevant is it to...

  7. 3. Controversies and Critics
    (pp. 95-161)

    SO FAR WE have explored the deep roots that the tradition of liberal education has in American soil, and we have seen that efforts to nurture these roots have been intertwined with articulations of freedom, self-reliance, progress, and truth. Along with this cultivation of liberal learning there has been persistent criticism of our educational institutions’ paltry cultural and societal harvests. In this chapter we turn to critics of liberal learning and examine their complaints about the meager fruits of higher education.

    The most illustrious self-taught American from the founding period is surely Benjamin Franklin. Artisan, inventor, businessman, and philosopher, Franklin...

  8. 4. Reshaping Ourselves and Our Societies
    (pp. 162-196)

    IN THE LAST chapter, we saw a continuum of controversies concerning liberal education. In the colonial period, Benjamin Franklin skewered learning that took pride in its freedom from labor (in its uselessness) as just a mask for snobbism—learning to exit a drawing room properly. He went on, though, to propose a compelling version of a broad education that was useful without being narrowly instrumental. Over the course of the 1800s, we saw battles between those who wanted to preserve what they thought of as the classical core of liberal education, learning to recite Latin and Greek, and those who...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 197-210)
  10. Index
    (pp. 211-228)