Robert Harris, a renowned writer and experienced professor, published “On the Purpose of a Liberal Art Education” in 1991. He was astounded by how many students he heard mumbling about a generalized education plan; therefore, he felt the compulsive need to explain why a general education not only gives a first-year student a foundation for later learning, but also improves a student’s life. Before Harris could write his paper, he had to investigate the claim; thus, Newman’s The Idea of University shaped Harris’s opinion on a liberal education.
Newman and Harris both agree that a generalized education helps train the mind to see culture in every situation. Moreover, this article states that a liberal arts education will teach a student how to think, how to learn, how to see the world as a whole, how to become a good teacher, and how to be happier. First of all, Harris outlines that a generalized education teaches students how to think. Harris is arguing that the mind is like a muscle; hence, the more the mind works the stronger it will become.
In other words, Harris is observing that knowing a little on many broad subjects is better than only knowing a lot on a single subject, an example is studying music when a student is a Politics major. As a result of the music class, scholars’ brains will be able to adapt to future jobs with ease. Moreover, Harris reasons that by studying broad subjects students will learn to think by themselves. Student’s opinions will no longer be fully shaped by their peers or parents’ values—no longer will students blindly believe everything their peers say without first investigating the claims.
Finally, with a liberal education, the world and its complex ideas are no longer unattainable. Harris adds that a wide ranging education is giving learners the tools to better understand the world; meanwhile, training their minds how to think. Secondly, Harris claims that a liberal education will teach scholars how to learn. Harris compares colleges to a telescope; in other words, college is a way for students to make distant ideas that may be too complex have real meaning.
Also, Harris suggests that by cultivating the material, students are learning from the broad subjects their brains are creating a pathway to a foundation of knowledge. The base knowledge can then be built upon to use in further more specialized subjects. When students use root words they learned before to break down a new term, they are using a foundation of knowledge. For instance, the term polyphonic from a music course could be broken down by knowing that the Latin root poly means many; hence, polyphonic means many parts playing at once.
Moreover, Harris argues by using the foundation of knowledge learners will be more creative in finding solutions to problems. In brief, Harris is attempting to convince first-year students that their professor cannot teach them what to think rather the process of how to think and to make decisions for themselves. Thirdly, Harris urges that a general education allows learners to see the world as a whole. The first point Harris expresses is that a narrow field of study will cause a students’ brain to become blind to the surrounding world of knowledge.
Harris further argues that students will not be able to learn how to deal with situations; therefore, every ant hill will become a mountain to the narrow mind. Also, Harris suggests that when students complete their general education classes, they will have a more thorough understanding of how subjects coexist and depend upon each other. Furthermore, Harris urges that a general education provides a student with the building blocks for a stable life. For example, by taking an economics class students will be better equipped to manage their money in the future.
Finally, Harris states that life is not split into majors; thus, to be successful students must first learn to interpret book knowledge into understanding and respect. In result, students will become professionals with respect and understand for cultural beliefs outside their standard as a result of a liberal education. The fourth point Harris emphasizes is that a liberal education will make scholars better teachers. Harris argues that regardless if students intend to major in education, they will end up transferring knowledge to another human in their lifetime.
In fact, Harris solidifies this point by pointing out that every time students speaks to another human there is a transfer of knowledge happening—whether it be their perspectives, generalizations, or reasoning on a subject. The final idea Harris addresses is that a general education will affect student’s happiness; in fact, Harris refutes this point continually throughout the paper. Furthermore, Harris implies that Western civilization has forgotten the lure and beauty of the fine art, but by having a general education students are learning to appreciate the forgotten wonders of the arts.
For instance, before having a visual art class students may only see Michelangelo’s David as a piece of stone shaped into a pubescent boy, but after completing the course they will be able to appreciate the minute details the artist painstakingly carved into the sculpture. In brief, Harris is not stating that a liberal education is going to cause students to never experience sadness or depression; rather, it gives students the choice of being content with their lives. Harris’ purpose for writing his paper was not to shame students for questioning why they must take generalized courses; in fact, it was quite the opposite.
Harris completely believes that a liberal arts education causes students to gain characteristic that they could not obtain to otherwise. Harris’ thoughts on the subject are reflected well through Newman’s lecture. “A habit of mind,” according to Newman, “is formed which last throughout life of which the attributes are, freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation and wisdom. ” Harris and Newman are both emphasizing that knowledge is power, power is freedom, and through freedom students can obtain wisdom.