The three classical liberal arts courses that make up the majority of undergraduate curricula in America are sometimes called the “trinity” or the “three pillars,” but you will not find many people referring to them as lenses.
That is a good thing because they are not!
The term lens comes from optical science where we have different types of lenses which focus light onto a target. In other words, lenses shape how things appear for us by altering what we can see of an object.
In the same way that lenses shift our perception of something, the three pillars of the liberal arts teach us about themselves, and then apply those lessons to new topics. Each pillar teaches us about the past, present, and future of knowledge and learning, and why it is important to be well-rounded.
This article will discuss just how differently each one uses their own unique set of rules when teaching these concepts, and why this matters.
The humanities are simply defined as all written, spoken, performed, and gathered materials that exist to show how human beings interact with each other and their surroundings.
The term “humanism” is sometimes used interchangeably with “humanities,” but they are not the same thing. Humanists use reason and evidence to understand humanity, while humans focus more on perception and emotional attachment.
Historians study past events through documents, poets write about stories, artists create works inspired by experiences in life, and stage performers experiment with emotions and reactions. These types of writers, artists, and scholars work together to connect with audiences who may or may not share their passion for their material, but still feel some type of emotion when interacting with it.
These interactions are what makes the humanities so important. Not only do we get new ideas that help us relate to others, we also learn about ourselves and our place in society. The way people have interacted with each other forms a basis for understanding future relationships and societies. This is why the humanities play such an integral role in creating informed citizens.
Liberal arts graduates can pursue careers in teaching the humanities, writing literature, art history, or any number of fields related to the studies of social interaction. Many employers look favorably on degrees in the humanities because they believe they prepare students to deal with different situations and help them form opinions based on reasons rather than emotions.
The creative arts
Creative arts like painting, sculpture, music, or writing are usually categorized as “the fine art” types of studies. This is because they require long periods to master fully. Take note though that this isn’t the only way to perceive creativity.
Some people are very practical in their approach to solving problems which can also be considered an element of creativity. For example, if you have a problem with limited resources, you can find ways to solve the problem by altering the parameters of the situation (resources). Or you can come up with alternatives to what was originally done to fix the same problem!
Another important component of being able to describe something as creative is defining the term. Many people may not agree on what constitutes as creative so having different definitions is okay. What matters most is whether your definition feels valid to you and others around you.
Using these three points as guidelines, we can now define more clearly how the study of the creative arts fits into the liberal arts genre.
The social sciences
Social studies like sociology, psychology, anthropology, and political science look at how individuals relate to each other and influence society as a whole. They study cultures – how different groups of people organize themselves into systems that structure their behavior and interactions with others.
These fields also explore why some groups are more likely than others to form organized societies with clearly defined roles and rules.
Social scientists use empirical evidence and logical reasoning to explain human behavior. Because they rely on observations and explanations derived from nature, many practices in these areas include concepts such as rationality, skepticism, and empiricism.
However, social science theories often go beyond describing what humans do to address larger questions about why and how things are the way they are. This makes them similar to philosophy because they strive to understand the underlying causes of observable phenomena.
A major component of liberal arts is practicing critical thinking. This includes reasoning using logic as well as evaluating statements or arguments based on their soundness and validity.
Critical thinking requires us to evaluate whether something makes sense, is believable, and if it is logical. It also means questioning things that seem normal or common, but which are not appropriate nor effective.
Practicing critical thinking helps you in everyday life. For example, when buying an item, how long do you read the product description before deciding where to spend your money? More importantly, will this item help me achieve my goals?
If you have ever wondered why some people seem to make really good decisions, they probably practiced systematic or formalized critical thinking as kids. Kids who learn how to analyze information and question assumptions gain important skills.
Liberal arts departments often emphasize argumentation, debate, and discussion as ways to foster critical thinking. These types of classes ask questions like: “What impact would changing this fact have?” or “Why should we work towards this goal instead of the opposite one?�”
Graduates with strong fundamentals of the liberal arts can choose to pursue any career path, so developing these skills is very valuable. They are also helpful in situations beyond college and career- such as living balanced lives and being aware of social issues.
Writing is an art form that has many different styles and levels. Some people feel more inclined to write in a formal tone, while others tend towards more informal styles.
Many students feel limited when it comes to writing because they are not taught any other style than direct, unadorned narratives. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but some genres require more effort to produce quality content due to their structure.
A great example of this is making a diary entry or posting something on social media. These types of texts usually start with a question or statement and then another part of the text answers the question.
This kind of writing can be difficult to do well because you have to make sure your initial sentence fits what we mentioned before – starting with a question or assertion.
The second major difference between liberal arts disciplines is their focus on research as an integral part of education. All academic fields require students to do some amount of research, but how much depends on what field they are studying and what level they are teaching. In art and literature departments, however, this activity is almost always done under direct supervision by a faculty member or team of professors that include both professional artists and literary scholars.
Research in these areas often includes looking up terms in dictionaries, searching Google and other search engines for information about the topic, reading articles and books written about the subject, and examining examples and illustrations of things being studied. These components all contribute to understanding the material which is what makes it considered educational.
Faculty members who teach large classes usually create interactive learning environments where students can ask questions and get hands-on experience with the materials. This helps promote engagement and student interest in the course.
Politics is arguably one of the most powerful lenses through which you can view our world. After all, it’s often referred to as an “engine for change.”
If we look at past examples in history, we see that political systems typically evolve towards more democratic ones. This was due to two factors: First, people get tired of being ruled by an elite few; second, they realize that having lots of different ideas about how to run their lives makes for a better society.
By applying this principle to the design of government institutions, we learn how to use democracy to strengthen them. It also helps us understand why some governments collapse — when enough people lose confidence in the leadership, there’s no longer a need for such strong top-down control.
This understanding of how democracies work has helped make America the richest and freest nation ever seen. It also led directly to some of the advances of modern civilization, like protecting individual rights and giving everyone access to healthcare.
Sadly, today many students don’t receive adequate training in politics. In fact, too many young people are leaving school without even knowing what kind of career option exists beyond teaching or nursing.
That needs to end. We must teach every student from early childhood through college not just how to be good moral individuals but how to become effective decision makers.