Liberal Education

From the Editor

What would happen if utility trumped liberal arts values in undergraduate education? As I read the articles in the Featured Topic section of this issue, that question continually pulled me like an undertow. It reminded me of a recent conversation about the insights of two books that were de rigeur reading in my own education: Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World. Neither paints a desirable picture of an imagined future society. Yet, time has shown that Huxley's dystopian vision comes closer to the realities of the late twentieth/early twenty-first century than does the story of Winston and Big Brother. Such was the conclusion of that conversation, as we ticked off the ways in which Huxley's predictions won, hands down.

But, whatever "the realities," a counterpoint pulls toward a different world of possibilities. Here, looking at the future, our writers assert the value of a humane and holistic tradition of higher education in the arts and sciences. Theirs is a vision of the liberating aims of education for responsible citizenship, capacious imagination, a democratic social contract, joy in life's multifacetedness, and a passion for justice in care for the others who share our planet--and our neighborhood, to name a few qualities that represent a human ideal.

Of course, the Huxley alternative is one extreme. While 1984 predicted a totalitarian control over human life, I don't propose that as an opposite view to Huxley. Rather, the opposite to both seems to me to be represented in the present articles in which those working on the front lines articulate their vision of undergraduate education. And they indicate that it is shared with colleagues, who, like the Enterprise commander, work hard in a daily round--so daily, so round--to "make it so." The amazing thing is how persistent is their advocacy. A recent short history of three stages in AC&U's development from 1915 reveals that the Association has been preoccupied with alternative values questions from the beginning. Consequently, this issue, in that brave tradition, revisits the theme of liberal arts education, a vision restated in contemporary terms as the goal toward which we together strive.

 


Bridget Puzon is the editor of Liberal Education

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