The Liberal Arts

In all languages, words and expressions change over time/circumstance and this applies to the expression liberal arts. During the Classical era of Europe, the liberal arts consisted of the Trivium and the Quadrivium.

The Trivium included studies which the ancients called Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric. The Quadrivium included studies called Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy and Music. Music was included in the Quadrivium because it was considered mathematical. The word liberal implies the idea of freeing and empowering oneself through study. The studies were designed for a class of people who would rule or manage.

During the Renaissance a new expression was coined called the Humanities. A lot of the studies of the Humanities at that time included looking back at Classical times and studying the Trivium or language of Greek (Grammar), including more exact ways of understanding and speaking (Logic and Rhetoric) like the classical times.

Much later Universities would include a Liberal Arts College with majors in the Humanities, Sciences and Math. The Humanities very roughly followed the old Trivium through the study of languages and philosophy while the more modern Sciences and Mathematics replaced the old Quadrivium.

With the rise of republics the idea of the liberal arts was to create a generally educated citizen who would make a good leader and help maintain the republic. Although the idea of Liberal strayed from classical times it still retained the idea of the high class individul since Liberal Arts was not designed as a training for actual work. Colleges of Law, Medicine and trade schools were designed for professional endeavors and jobs.

Because the modern definition of liberal has shifted ( especially in U.S. ) and along with the fact that the Liberal Arts does not train a person directly for a trade, the term liberal arts has gained a bad reputation. Previously (in U.S.) college majors in Mathematics, chemistry, physics and even Computer science were under the College of Liberal Arts since these colleges included both the Humanities and the Sciences. But gradually many Universities have begun transferring the sciences to a college of science in order to prove their closeness to a profession like Engineering and therefore a trade (job) . It has gotten so extreme that sometimes the soft sciences are transferred to a college of social science so that the "harder" sciences retain their pureness. Liberal arts has gotten such a bad name that even the humanities are leaving the liberal arts for a college of humanities.

However Liberal Arts does not deserve this reputation. Done properly and rigorously Liberal Arts provides something that none of the technical or professional studies can provide which is a good general education. Republics and healthily governed States need a large pool of people with a good general education. Rigorous enough high schools can provide this good general education but U.S. high schools try but don't succeed in this role and traditionally in the last century this was done by higher education and liberal arts colleges. In my opinion, if high schools provided a good general education then the students could concentrate on different types of education afterwards. I feel, that ideally U.S. should revamp its high schools to become rigorous like some European high schools but U.S. outside of prep-schools and a few very exclusive High Schools has almost no success in doing this.

Additionally, I think that Universities have gotten so expensive in U.S. that you can only afford to spend that money if it will provides a future living for you. I believe that the U.S. needs to provide inexpensive general degrees and it needs to make the liberal arts courses more rigorous for all students. However, in my opinion if it could revamp its High Schools from social clubs to "high" schools of general (liberal arts) education that would do the trick. This would provide the much needed large pool of people who have a good general education (.i.e. liberal arts) dispite what kind of education they get after High School.