The following essay was written for a 3-4 page essay assignment
for Personal Development Portfolio 150, in regards to "understanding
the liberal arts."
The following essay is equivalent to approximately eight typed pages.
Sorry if the formatting got super messed up. Facebook notes do not
like indentations and formatted long quotes. :[
Professor Scott Cole
Personal Development Portfolio 150
November 18, 2009
______________________My Liberal Arts Life
_____Before coming to Bridgewater College, I did not have any concrete expectations or stereotypes in regards to attending a liberal arts college. Since being exposed to the liberal arts environment, I have come across a few jokes and stereotypes about people that attend liberal arts institutions, most of which I do not believe apply. However, according to the definition of “liberal arts,” I have decided that my entire life has been somewhat fashioned after this philosophy of the “development of the whole person” (PDP Syllabus 3). Between the definitions and stereotypes of “liberal arts,” the educational philosophy behind my life, and experiencing a liberal arts education firsthand, I am somewhat torn on the topic because I believe that the liberal arts are often pursued in the wrong manner and that there is a time and a place for a non-liberal arts education.
_____The Encyclopædia Britannica defines “liberal arts” as the:
"college or university curriculum aimed at imparting general knowledge and developing general intellectual capacities in contrast to a professional, vocational
or technical curriculum. In the medieval European university the seven liberal arts were grammar, rhetoric, and logic (the trivium) and geometry, arithmetic, music, and astronomy (the quadrivium). In modern colleges and universities the liberal arts include the study of literature, languages, philosophy, history, mathematics, and science as the basis of a general, or liberal, education. Sometimes the liberal-arts curriculum is described as comprehending study of three main branches of knowledge: the humanities (literature, language, philosophy, the fine arts, and history), the physical and biological sciences and mathematics, and the social sciences" (“Liberal Arts”).
This definition of emphasizing a wide range of studies is similar to what is found in the PDP Syllabus:
"Educating students in the liberal arts tradition means, on a basic level, giving them the broad skills and knowledge one acquires from study in such areas as literature, history, philosophy, and the arts, as opposed to the more specialized and technical education one would receive in professional and vocational training programs. But on a deeper level, acquiring a liberal arts education refers to the development of a certain habit of mind, an ability (and a desire) to question, to examine, and to understand issues and ideas with increasing clarity and depth. ...students at a liberal arts college learn to go beyond simple acquisition of information..."(1).
Essentially, a liberal arts education strives to provide the opportunity for a well-rounded education, rather than focusing on one vocational training.
_____My entire life and education has been fashioned around this philosophy. Having been homeschooled from my birth to my high school graduation, every year was focused on gaining new knowledge and applying what I learned. This philosophy is drastically different from the public education system, which has recently become a system of preparation for standardized testing in order for schools to get maximum funding. Not that this funding is used for bettering education, but rather for even more test-preparation.
_____My homeschool education does not reflect the typical stereotype. I was involved in the community; I participated in extracurricular activities; and, yes, even socialized with people and had friends. Most homeschoolers do not reflect the typical stereotype. Homeschoolers do not homeschool to be isolationists. We homeschool because our educational philosophy is vastly different from that of the public education system. We homeschool because our educational philosophy is, more accurately, a life philosophy.
_____My homeschool education was centered around creating a custom education that would keep me interested by focusing on things I enjoy and prepare me for real life by living in the real world. To be perfectly honest, I do not have concrete examples of this prior to my junior year of high school, aside from my memories of outside-of-the-box learning, like sentence-diagramming, Cuisenaire rods, Exchange City (now JuniorAcheivement), and so on. The reason I am not able to recall very many concrete examples of my liberal arts homeschool education prior to eleventh grade is because that is when I began taking college courses and now, in my memory, I can only very vaguely remember doing anything else for school.
_____Fall 2007 I took Elementary Spanish 101 at Harrisburg Area Community College-York. Looking back on my time spent at HACC, I genuinely appreciate starting college at a community college because it allowed a smooth transition from homeschool to Dual-Enrollment to real college here at Bridgewater. During this first semester, I found a community within my class, where everyone thought I was twenty-two.
_____Spring 2008 I took Elementary Spanish 102 at HACC, The Modern Novella at Lancaster Bible College, and Human Biology at Penn State York. My community continued to be established at HACC. The Modern Novella at LBC was one of my favorite classes because we read a novella each week and wrote a short essay about it. Although I was frustrated with open-ended essay questions at first, I became accustomed to them and excelled in the class. For our final project, I wrote a 1,885-word short story and I treasure the comments of my professor to this day. My biology class at PSY was not enjoyable in the least. In this biology class for non-science majors, the averages for the sixty-some students on the four tests wavered around a 60%. PSY was an unattractive taste of a college education, which I decided was because the majority of those students were simply waiting around until they could transfer until the third-highest party school in the United States. This sense of wasting time until the next step did not serve to create a sense of community like there was at HACC, where the students varied greatly in age, but all were serious about their education.
_____For my senior year, my course load was comparable to a traditional college student. Fall 2008 I took Redemptive Cinema at LBC; College Algebra I at PSY; and General Psychology, Introduction to Sociology, and English Composition I at HACC. My Redemptive Cinema class at LBC was painful at the time because the newly-engaged professor was slow in returning assignments or giving feedback, but, looking back, I learned a great deal of applicable information from the class and continue to reference the class whenever I watch any movie, trailer, or television show. My math class at PSY was more bearable than biology had been, which I think was primarily due to the fact that I befriended a classmate who was an adult student. This variance in age resembled a sliver of HACC, which is the thing I miss most about HACC. I absolutely loved my social science courses at HACC, because I am a social sciences nerd. For Sociology, writing an essay about the Communist Manifesto and not completely throwing away everything Marx had to say was very influential in how I view other worldviews and created an attitude of absolute disdain for people who disregard everything a person says simply on the fact that they subscribe to some very wrong philosophies. English Composition I was a struggle, not because it was difficult, but because it was so dreadfully easy. However, I still learned a few things and, most importantly, was exposed to the writing genius of Ray Bradbury.
_____Spring 2009 I took Interpersonal Communication (Speech), World History II, Introduction to Philosophy, and English Composition II at HACC. Speech was cake because of my theatre experience, but proved especially valuable in regards to working with others and stretching my comfort zone when it came to our group project, which was about Artificial Insemination. My history class was frustrating because of an un-engaging teacher. I got an A in the course, but it was certainly the class that taught me the least from among my college courses thus far. My Introduction to Philosophy class was incredible. Our assignments consisted of watching and discussing movies in class and writing a certain number of available essay reflections based on the textbook reading. I know what pragmatism is. I have a deep respect for Taoism. And so on. I was exposed to great movies like The Truman Show, Memento, and The Butterfly Effect. For my final paper, I compared and contrasted Stoicism (Marcus Aurelius) to St. Augustine, since Augustine is one of my heroes. By the beginning of May, I was thoroughly frustrated with my college career (mostly because of my history and English classes, probably) and very much wanted to start classes at Bridgewater. Now, after having been here for nearly a semester, I fully appreciate my Dual-Enrollment experiences and environments and how they continued what homeschooling had started in providing a liberal arts education.
_____Recently, I have come across a few stereotypes about liberal arts colleges. Cartoonist Jeph Jacques references liberal arts colleges in connection to “massive amounts of self-loathing, drinking too much, and horrible sleep habits” (QuestionableContent.net). I honestly do not understand this reference and whether it is supposed to be funny because it is ironic or because it is blatantly untrue. Bridgewater College as a liberal arts institution has not made me a self-loathing individual and I have not observed this in others, although many express a disdain toward their required general education courses. I am not a part of the alcohol culture, so I cannot testify to this first-hand. And, finally, although my roommate and I occasionally subscribe to a less-than-optimal sleep schedule, I do not think that this is true solely for colleges in general, much less for strictly liberal arts colleges. There are plenty of employed adults who have terrible sleep schedules. So why the jokes and stereotypes about liberal arts colleges? I don’t know. The only possible reason I can see is the fact that students of liberal arts institutions have the potential to come across as haughty because their education is well-rounded and they may think this makes them better than students of technical, professional, or vocational institutions.
_____Although I deeply appreciate my liberal arts life and mostly deny the stereotypes of liberal arts institutions, my opinion about liberal arts is more on-the-fence than one would expect. This is because I believe that liberal arts educations are often pursued in the wrong manner. In my liberal arts homeschool education, the most important foundation of that education was the fact that I was taught how to be a thinking, reflective, and sensitive person. Not only did my homeschool education provide opportunities to study what I wanted to study, this foundational concept of being a well-rounded person prior to taking well-rounded courses allowed me to appreciate my experiences when I did have to take courses I didn’t particularly enjoy (math, history) or when I was frustrated with classes that sounded enjoyable (cinema). In my liberal arts homeschool education, the foundational concept was thoroughly taught before it was applied.
______This is where liberal arts can be incorrectly pursued. Instead of teaching the foundational concept and building from there, institutions have their students dive into the applicable courses and hope that the foundational concept will be somehow stumbled upon during their studies. This is a haphazard method of education. It is a good concept, but it is a bad idea to pursue it in this way. This is a good concept pursued in the wrong way. This is PDP. The four pillars of PDP can each be reduced to outlets for learning the skills of critical thinking and responsibility. However, PDP does not focus on these foundational concepts because the course is arranged in such a way to make these concepts the end goal. But this is not effective.
______The end goal of liberal arts education is to be a well-rounded individual and PDP strives to achieve this by trying to teach critical thinking and responsibility through four individual facets. However, it would be much more effective to start with teaching critical thinking and responsibility because the rest of being a well-rounded individual would follow naturally…the four pillars and beyond.
______In addition to a liberal arts education frequently being pursued in the wrong manner, I am also on-the-fence about liberal arts education in general because I believe there is a time and place, certain set of circumstances, when a non-liberal arts education can be justified. An example of this would be after unemployment when a person needs a narrow and efficient education so as to acquire a new set of skills to qualify for a new job in the shortest amount of time possible. Situations like this typically occur later in life, after a portion of or a complete college education had already been completed. However, another set of circumstances can also justify a vocational education, which would be when a person has a well-defined career goal and wants to enter the work field very quickly. Although a liberal arts education is not likely to happen with vocational educations, a philosophy of being a well-rounded individual still persists, as a vocational student will study a wide array of subjects within their particular field.
_____Because the liberal arts can be pursued incorrectly and because there can be a time and place for a proper vocational education, I am not whole-heartedly opposed to anything but liberal arts. Even though it seems like I should be a valiant supporter of all things liberal arts because of my own liberal arts life, there is a need for balance and moderation and there is certainly not one strict way one should go about their education.
_____Although there is no strict formula for the best education, I do believe there is a strict underlying concept, just like there is behind the four pillars of PDP. The most important philosophy to hold, regardless of the type of education a person may be pursuing, is to view all of life as a liberal arts education. This has been developed in me because of my lifetime career of homeschooling, which has engrained the liberal arts philosophy into my soul. If all of education were pursued with this philosophy, there would be less antipathy at liberal arts schools toward general education classes because students would appreciate them for their value, even if it is not immediately recognized. If all of education were pursued with this philosophy, there would be no real need to differentiate between liberal arts and non-liberal arts institutions because all of the students at every institution would be driven by the same motivator. If all of education were pursued with this philosophy, vocational institutions would acquire more respect because their students would view their specific education from a liberal arts perspective and thus glean more from their training. All in all, the type of institution is not as important as the driving philosophy behind that institution and, more importantly, the driving philosophy of the students.
“Liberal Arts.” Britannica.com. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. 18 Nov 2009.
“Number 1529: The Webcartoonist Lifestyle.” QuestionableContent.net.
Questionable Content by J. Jacques. 2009.
PDP Syllabus. Personal Development Portfolio 150. Bridgewater College. August 31, 2009.