One of the most common questions I get asked is if Liberty University is a “liberal arts” school or not. Some people seem to believe that only liberal arts schools focus solely on educating students through the study of the humanities, such as English, history, and sociology.
This perception seems to come mostly from media sources where you will see stories about how Harvard just doesn’t value an education that teaches you how to put together pieces of plastic that look cool. Or how Yale doesn’t care about teaching students who live in cities what it means to be good citizens.
I feel like there is a misconception at play here. People assume that all universities teach the same thing, which they don’t.
Liberal arts colleges do include courses in those so-called soft subjects, but they are a very small part of their whole academic program. At least, this has always been the case at Liberty University.
Liberty does not consider itself a university with just a college attached to its name. It is a university in and of itself — at least, that’s how President Jerry Falwell saw things back when he first opened his doors in 1971.
History of liberal arts
The term “liberal art” was first coined in the 16th century to describe all branches of learning that emphasize creativity, expression, and knowledge for their own sake. These are called “artistic” or “higher” pursuits because they cultivate inner qualities such as empathy, self-reflection, and understanding of others.
The word “arts” comes from the Latin word arte, which means skill or expertise in performing practical tasks (like carpentry)or skills like writing well. So a liberal art school is one that teaches its students many different artistic skills — not just literature, music, or painting, but also cooking, business, science, etc.
This emphasis on learning for the sake of knowledge and understanding has been part of human culture since time immemorial. Ancient Greek philosophers focused on educating students through the study of poetry, rhetoric, and ethics, for example. In India, the Vedic tradition emphasized studying the Sanskrit language, philosophy, and medicine.
In China, early emperors sponsored artists, poets, and musicians so that everyone would have exposure to the best examples of what makes someone intelligent and cultured. This tradition continues today with universities emphasizing academic excellence across many fields.
Who would consider attending a liberal arts school
Many people associate liberal arts with larger universities that focus more on studying literature, philosophy, and other subjects that explore humanity’s potential to grow beyond our own individual selves.
But liberal education is not only about big schools that require large amounts of money. It can be free! And it should be in order to help you find your inner-self and fulfill your potential as an intelligent human being.
Liberal education teaches us about different cultures and philosophies so that we may choose which ones are right for us and apply them to our lives. It also teaches us how to think clearly by developing logical reasoning, study skills that stick, and use of the English language so that we know what things mean.
These qualities will serve you well in all areas of life including career, family, and self-development. In fact, according to a recent survey, nearly half of all business professionals were either professionally trained or personally motivated in the area of leadership due to their educational experiences.
What does that mean?
The term “liberal arts” comes from ancient Greece, where it referred to four subjects: literature, music, art, and speech or rhetoric. These are understood as modes of expression that help you understand who people are and how they live their lives.
By studying all four in depth, students learn about themselves and others. They learn how to apply reasoning skills to assess both material and non-material concepts like values and beliefs.
These days, though, liberal arts isn’t really a commonly used term. More often than not, it refers to only two things: English and anything else under the sun (usually called a major).
With technology advancing at an exponential rate, more and more schools are dropping the term “liberal arts” altogether. Some even use the word “literature” to describe only one piece of each subject — something many consider to be wrong.
In fact, some argue that teaching just one thing under the guise of being “artistic” is actually anti-intellectual. We could call this paring down of knowledge deliberate obfuscation.
What most don’t realize is that there was once a time when being educated meant learning the same set of skills across several disciplines. When I was in high school, we still had courses such as history, geography, biology, and mathematics.
Examples of liberal arts schools
Liberal arts colleges focus more on educating students as individuals rather than focusing on teaching specific skills or disciplines. Students come away from these campuses with an understanding of different viewpoints, how to evaluate information, and how to live their lives in harmony.
Liberal arts universities typically require at least one major in the humanities (philosophy, psychology, literature, etc.), one major in social sciences (economics, political science, sociology) and one major in natural sciences (biology, chemistry, physics).
These three areas are sometimes referred to as the “big” fields because they pack a lot of content into them. But no matter what field you choose, your degree will be considered academic even if the job doesn’t ask for it. Employers look for well-rounded people who can interact with others and think about things beyond the next episode of Your Showing!
Another important part of the liberal arts education is learning how to apply knowledge towards solving practical problems. This isn’t necessarily applying mathematics to find the best price on shoes, but knowing when to use calculus and being able to identify fundamental concepts like centering and axioms will help you do that.
While some programs may not emphasize this directly, most produce graduates who are knowledgeable across many subjects and have strong leadership qualities. These are all valuable life lessons that can’t be taught in just a few courses.
What are some benefits of a liberal arts education?
One important reason why a liberal arts degree is so valuable is that it teaches you how to think about everything. You will learn not only about one specific field, but also how to approach all topics from an abstract standpoint, or as a whole. This general understanding of knowledge makes you more well-rounded and intelligent.
Liberal arts degrees focus less on just teaching students in a particular area, but instead teach them what makes something good really matter — whether it’s art, literature, math, or whatever else they study. Students often comment school leaders to be more open minded after learning this skill.
Students who have a liberal arts background tend to stay out of trouble because they have learned how to evaluate things objectively, which helps take away most of the influence politics can have on people.
What are some challenges with a liberal arts education?
A major challenge of attending an institution that emphasizes the importance of the liberal arts is figuring out what it means. Some people associate the term “liberal” with something like “open-minded,” but this isn’t quite right.
A more accurate way to describe liberals would be people who value equality. In other words, everyone should have equal opportunities and chances in life — not just men, but also women, minorities, and others who may be socially or economically disadvantaged.
This doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be social inequalities, such as rich kids going to better schools than poor kids, or employers giving higher pay raises to white males with no proof of skill. But overall, society should feel like anyone can succeed, given their hard work and effort.
That’s why many consider the 1950s and 1960s to have been a period when liberalism was in danger. At that time, large swaths of Americans believed that racial segregation and discrimination were acceptable practices, and only wealthy whites deserved good jobs.
What is the future of liberal arts schools?
The rise in popularity of “liberal arts” education has been dramatic. It was not too long ago that people mocked it as outdated, expensive fluff with no real value.
Now, however, many institutions have caught onto the trend and even made it their own by incorporating aspects of the liberal art tradition into what they offer students.
These programs typically focus more on teaching the fundamental skills like reading, writing, and math while at the same time encouraging students to explore different areas of knowledge through learning called “fields.”
There are many ways to describe these fields, but generally speaking they teach you about topics such as literature, history, economics, philosophy, and sociology.
By studying several disciplines side-by-side, student will be able to draw insights from each one and apply them towards understanding other things around us. This way of thinking also encourages critical thinking, which is an important skill for today’s society.
It was this emphasis on educating the mind that made the liberal arts so valuable during the Renaissance era. In fact, some believe that the Enlightenment wouldn’t have happened without it!
With the decline of classical studies since then, though, many feel that only certain elites get this educational benefit. Some argue that this perception still exists even now, making the experience limited to just a few.
What are some things students should know before applying to a liberal arts school
Many people associate liberal arts with the humanities, such as history, literature, and philosophy. But what many don’t realize is that there is a significant amount of study in the fields of art, music, and sometimes even business that can be considered part of the liberal arts.
Liberal arts schools typically focus more on educating students beyond just teaching them facts and skills, but also engaging their intellects and spirits. This includes teaching practical philosophies and ethics that will help students develop as individuals.
Students who attend liberal arts universities tend to value knowledge for its own sake, not only for how it benefits them professionally, but also personally. They may learn something new about yourself by looking into which subjects matter most to you.
It also helps prepare you to be intelligent and thoughtful, two qualities everyone needs to succeed in life. In fact, several famous politicians were educated at liberal arts colleges, including our current President.