What's so liberal about these arts?

Written by Peter Woekel There is no doubt, as students at TWU, we are all a part of something big. Each one of us is involved in a higher education unique amongst the list of post-secondary institutions. It is the unique nature of our education that deserves our attention. But before we can have an informed discussion about the individual classes and subjects offered at Trinity, we need to talk a little bit about what underlies all of those things: the liberal arts.

First things first, we need to get a clear understanding of what the liberal arts actually are and how they are being taught here at Trinity.

The liberal arts themselves are just a collection of knowledge. In ancient Greece, where they were first thought up, they were the skills considered necessary to be a functioning part of the aristocracy. Later on they were developed into a specific set of subjects including physical exercise, music, geometry, logic, grammar, and a number of other things. This is more or less the form that Trinity adopts.

Right now at the school, all students are required to complete their core curriculum, taking a few classes in a number of specific subjects. Add in a major and that is called a liberal arts degree.

There’s a lot to be said for having a big pool of knowledge to draw from in a variety of subjects, being knowledgeable about a lot of different things is an extremely helpful life skill. Not only that, but changing majors is really common. The core curriculum provides an opportunity for people to discover a love for a subject they may have otherwise completely ignored.

To be honest though, I think these are kind of lame reasons for implementing the curriculum. Having a wide variety of classes is great, but there is very little discussion of how these classes are connected, or why we should even attempt to make connections between them, and that is the heart of the liberal arts.

It would be like getting a great wine pairing for a big steak at a restaurant, and then chugging the wine right before the steak gets there. The wine would probably be pretty good, almost as good as the steak, but in that situation the wine is not intended to be enjoyed on its own. It’s supposed to accentuate the flavors of the steak, and likewise have its flavors brought out by the steaks flavors and textures. Neither will be as good on their own as they will if they are enjoyed together.

Core courses are the same way. If you pick all of your core courses at random, chances are, a few of them will be good. However, many will be totally unenjoyable, and even the good ones will be somewhat disconnected from what you are studying. The core curriculum will only be its best if the classes are chosen intentionally for their ability to enhance your experience throughout school.

Unfortunately, there’s not always a whole lot of guidance in that area. Over the next few months I hope to be able to provide some small measure of help in looking at specific core subjects and the classes available there.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to beat up Trinity unnecessarily. There are a lot of really great courses here and a lot of great professors. That our school even has core requirements sets it apart from many other schools, in a good way. Trinity has provided us with a great foundation for a liberal arts education; we just need to make sure that we are actually taking the time to build it.

Hello, My Name is Peter

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