by Martin Cothran

From the August 7th Wall Street Journal article, “The Suicide of the Liberal Arts,” by John Agresto: “To restore the liberal arts, those of us who teach should begin by thinking about students. Almost all of them have serious questions about major issues, and all of them are looking for answers. What is right? What is love? What do I owe others? What do others owe me?”

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In too many places these are not questions for examination but issues for indoctrination. Instead of guiding young men and women by encouraging them to read history, biography, philosophy and literature, we’d rather debunk the past, deconstruct the authors and dethrone our finest minds and statesmen.

… Finally, a word to secondary schools and their teachers: You may be the last hope many of your students will have to think broadly and seriously about literature, science, math and history. If they don’t read Homer or Shakespeare, or marvel at the working of the universe, or read and understand the Constitution, they never will. The hope of liberal learning rests on your shoulders. Please don’t shrug.

When properly conceived and taught, the liberal arts do not by themselves make us “better people” or (God knows) more “human.” They don’t exist to make us more “liberal,” at least in the contemporary political sense. But the liberal arts can do something no less wonderful: They can open our eyes.

They show us how to look at the world and the works of civilization in serious and important and even delightful ways. They hold out the possibility that we will know better the truth about many of the most important things. They are the vehicle that carries the amazing things that mankind has made—and the memory of the horrors that mankind has perpetrated—from one age to the next. They teach us how to marvel.

I think Agresto may needlessly downplay the role the humanities in making us better people. It is in history and literature, after all that we see the best and worst in human beings, learning how to imitate the former and avoid the latter. But he does say the can’t do this “alone,” about which he is probably right.

Read more here.

 

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