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Critique of "The Purposes of Liberal Education"

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Whether you have designs on medical or culinary school, the importance of perspective taking is paramount to success. This is the crux of Henry Rosovsky’s argument in favor of a liberal education as the foundation for all other academic endeavors. Henry Rosovsky is a former dean of Harvard College and in the essay “The Purposes of Liberal Education”1, he discusses the role of liberal education in America. Rosovsky shares his attempt at defining what liberal education entails, particularly, for a student in America. In his own words the definition is “ambitious”1, but necessary in setting a standard. Rosovsky provided five parameters by which one should measure whether an education is liberal. They are outlined as characteristics of a liberally educated person and are summed up as the ability to demonstrate critical thinking, a cursory understanding of the academic process and the disciplines therein, be culturally aware, practice discernment through informed judgment, and lastly, achieve a depth of knowledge in an area.

Henry Rosovsky is not alone in his perspective on the importance of a liberal education. Carey Brush, vice president for Academic Affairs at the State University of New York at Oneonta, outlined the role a liberal education throughout history in his reading titled “The Liberal Studies”. He underscores a common thread woven through the ages of what is today referred to as the liberal arts and supports the argument that to be “good citizens” you must be versed in a broad array of subjects. Brush, leaning into history, quoted John Stuart Mill as stating the business of education is to “make men capable and sensible” so that they can go on to bring that capability and sensibility into their vocation; similarly, Rosovsky also leaned on history, quoting an address by Eton master, William Johnson Cory, wherein he declared “…Above all, you go to a great school for self-knowledge”

Like Rosovsky and Brush, Cory argues that critical thinking and discernment are hallmarks of a liberally educated mind, adding that mental courage can also be gained through education. Cory’s last point regarding mental courage correlates to all Rosovsky’s criteria, but particularly the fourth: discernment through informed judgment.

Discerning what is an idea versus opinion is discussed in Wayne C. Booth’s excerpt “What is an Idea?”. In this reading, Booth provides several examples that illustrate the fundamental differences between opinions and ideas: ideas are connected to other ideas, have the capacity to generate other ideas, and can have more than one argument or position. Like a liberal education, ideas are multidimensional and are born from having a perspective from multiple sides of the discussion. It is unlikely that an idea to solve an e-commerce logistics problem would have merit without an “informed acquaintance1”, and, thus, perspective on mathematics, science, business, and even ethics; further bolstering support of Rosovsky’s “ambitious” definition of the purpose of a liberal education.

There is an inherent and lifelong value in acquiring a liberal education: one’s ability to realize their potential and connect one’s self with the world. Becoming acquainted with various subjects allows for a unique perspective that is woven with theories of old, ideas of new, and colored with personal experiences, to be impressed upon the fruits of that individual’s labors. Rosovsky’s ambitious definition and passion for liberal education are clear and articulate for society what is at stake if the liberal education is abandoned.

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