Liberal Education

From the Editor

Paul Valéry once observed that, "in all great undertakings, tradition, in the true sense of the word, does not consist of doing again what others have done before, but in recapturing the spirit that went into what they did—and would have done differently in a different age." This insight offers a useful way to understand what is now occurring in the great undertaking of American higher education, as colleges and universities of all types are "doing" liberal education very differently in order to meet the needs of a new, global century.

This issue of Liberal Education looks at how—and why—one particularly unique type of institution, the service academy, is engaging the American tradition of liberal education as it seeks to accommodate the changing demands of twenty-first-century military service. The three institutions represented here—the Military, Air Force, and Naval Academies—are all embarked on significant curricular change efforts, prompted in large part by changed requirements for military leadership. As West Point's Bruce Keith observes, "today's military operates in contexts where uncertainty and ambiguity are commonplace."

For this reason, Keith maintains, "the army needs officers who have benefitted from a liberal education."

In their article on curricular change at the United States Air Force Academy, Rolf Enger, Steven Jones, and Dana Born point out that, "although the academy's commitment to liberal education has remained the same since the institution's founding over fifty years ago, the approach we have taken to fulfill that commitment has changed markedly over the years." Similarly, Maochun Miles Yu, Timothy Disher, and Andrew Phillips note that the Naval Academy continues to "provide a top liberal education to all midshipmen"; however, in response to fundamental strategic adjustments made by the Department of Defense after 9/11, the academy now emphasizes expanded opportunities for midshipmen to develop "a strong foundation in and understanding of global cultures and foreign languages."

There are many obvious differences between the United States Service Academies and the rest of American higher education (as well as among the academies themselves). Yet, in focusing on curricular development and the learning students need to succeed in the twenty-first century, the articles in this issue point to fundamental and, perhaps, even surprising similarities. In a rapidly changing world, liberal education remains the best preparation for citizenship, work, life, and military leadership.

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