Tuesday, September 23, 2008

WARNING: "Boring" Alert

Here is a bit from my presentation. I started with an intro and the various formal definitions of the word "liberal".

Let me start instead with the final definition, namely, an education based on the “traditional arts and sciences” or liberal arts. These include the study of arts, literature, languages, mathematics, science, history and philosophy. As a language and literature girl, I don’t see the value of mathematics in any education, but that’s another subject for another day. Based on this definition of the word “liberal,” do these things have place in a conservative environment? Is there value in science, in history, in philosophy and yes, even math? I should hope that the answer to this question, particularly in light of this definition, is yes.

Another definition of the word “liberal” has to do with attitudes supporting reform and progress. I would wager that, within this explanation is the very essence of Utah Valley University. Without reform and progress we would not be a University, would not have the new facilities, the expanded degree and course offerings that we have presently. Reform allows this institution to maintain its core values, building on them even as the school identity shifts and adjusts to the demands of change. This is re-FORM, with emphasis on the word “form,” and not a disassembling or a destroying. It is taking the existing materials and adapting them, reforming, reshaping. Is there a place for these types of liberal ideals? Of course.

For me, perhaps what is most defining in terms of my exposure to a “liberal” education on this campus is as it is presented in quantifiable terms. Namely, as liberal is defined as “giving freely” or “generous in amount.” I see a “liberal” education as one that tries to answer the questions, fill in the gaps, find holes in knowledge accepted and perhaps taken for granted. Does it mean that I accept everything I am taught? Of course not. No one here would. But the education is there, in all forms, for me to choose or not. In this definition of a “liberal” education, there are opportunities for expanded knowledge. There is an environment for critical thinking, for adding to established knowledge and perhaps making a contribution to various fields of research.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities defines a liberal education thus: “Liberal Education is an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g. science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth study in a specific area of interest. A liberal education helps students develop a sense of social responsibility, as well as strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.”

Most often, when confronted with the term, “liberal,” there are other definitions that we place upon it. The political notions of progressiveness are sometimes the first and most readily-associated, contrary to many of the definitions we’ve encountered here. Often the term in itself can call to mind a certain way of thinking, a certain pedagogy that many, in this local climate of conservativism, might approach with caution. Likewise, those labeled “conservative” are often pitted against these liberal notions- forcing some kind of opposition, a line drawn in the sand where one is either of the liberal camp or the conservative one. Really, the fact that these labels exist at all should, within the definition and aims of a “liberal” education, be troubling.

I, myself, can identify with many of the views shared by so-named conservatives. However, I have also learned, as I have studied out the implications of the word “liberal,” that I’m not entirely comfortable being placed in a position opposing it, either. In fact, as I have attended Utah Valley University, a University I have just described as being “liberal,” I have had to reconsider many of the views and beliefs I had before entering the school. Through my “liberal” education I have been taught to think critically, to learn and to test boundaries, and to challenge “liberal” and “conservative” views alike.

So now, let’s return to our original question, namely, what is the value of a “liberal” education on a “conservative” campus? Let’s remove these formerly-held labels that I have discussed, which deal in preconceptions and misconceptions. Let’s not limit one another, or the campus in general, to the supposed terms of reductive identities, and let’s allow one another to move freely about, questioning the validity and legitimacy of either and all arguments, ideals and traditions.

It should also be the concern of students and educators, in all facets of this argument to consider the implications of a “liberal” education, or one in which critical thinking, question and inquiry are championed. You could say a “liberal” education fosters an atmosphere in which students are challenged, where boundaries are reconsidered, and where beliefs are examined. It is important to notice that I use the words “challenged,” and “questioned,” and not such words as “belittled” or “threatened.” I don’t believe that inquiry has to threaten beliefs or traditions, to destroy any previously-held ideals, in order to be challenging.

I will conclude with what a “liberal” education, as I have come to understand it and as I have experienced it here on UVU’s campus, has been for me. I have received liberal, or generous helpings of viewpoints and attitudes, beliefs and ideals. I have been taught to examine them critically and to sort through them in order to discover my own answers and sets of truth within them. I have been taught to find my footing in an atmosphere that fosters development, social responsibility and, to quote the AACU, “strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.”

When we remove labels, notions of “us” versus “them” or “attackers” versus “the attacked,” when we strip away such reductive and destructive behaviors, education can take place. A true and truly “liberal” education can take place.


Rebecca said...

You are too smart. Sadly, I don't think we can be friends anymore.

Cindy said...

So well done, Amber. That was fascinating! I personally have *always* wondered exactly what a liberal education was!

Rachel said...


AmShaZam said...

Aw come on, Rebecca! Please can we be friends? As if I'm not insanely jealous of your artistic abilities!

And thanks you guys for reading this.