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Surge Summary: A particular kind of liberal arts education can help equip an individual to not only make a living following graduation from college … but to live a full life which promotes liberty, models virtue and produces godly restoration.
by Dr. Peter Frank
For the past couple of years, I have been working with the faculty at Grove City College to assess and review the core curriculum. While the culture at large, and higher education in particular, have been pushing greater and greater specialization and a focus on job-skill training, we at Grove City College are expanding our commitment to the liberal arts as the foundation of the student experience. The final details of the revised core are still in process, but we do know that rather than abandoning our rich heritage centered on the classical liberal arts, we are not only safeguarding that heritage, but strengthening it.
Why this emphasis on the liberal arts?
Perhaps a better name for these subjects of study would be the liberating arts. Throughout history this kind of education—focused on the great books of literature, history, philosophy, and theology, as well as the great works of music and art, and the exploration in science and mathematical fields—has been a way to liberate people. Originally the privilege of those who had leisure time and could learn more than a vocational trade, this kind of education was for free people, equipping them to strengthen democracy and promote freedom. Wise and eloquent citizens could advocate for liberty, justice, and virtue. Over the last millennium, these liberating arts have provided freedom to those who would otherwise have remained uneducated, unequipped, and unskilled.
Grove City College has always valued freedom and an emphasis in the liberating arts is central to our institutional vision. We want to raise up more wise and eloquent citizens “for such a time as this.” As a Christian college, our desire for free citizens is not for the purpose of individual indulgences, but rather for the purpose of helping others to thrive. (1 Peter 2:16, Galatians 5:13)
As an economist, I have seen over and over again the importance of a free citizenry. Data repeatedly demonstrate that when personal liberties diminish, the well-being of the entire society suffers. What’s more, freedom always leads to a more hopeful and flourishing life by numerous measures beyond material well-being alone. Educational attainment, improved healthcare, protection under the law, access to the basic needs of food and water, expanded life expectancy, and improved infant mortality are a few of the factors that improve significantly where freedom expands in society.1
Beyond the basics of job training, we see our purpose here as forming free citizens steeped in Christian wisdom, ready to serve their communities by promoting and protecting freedom for all.
Rich Content and Conversations
We talk a lot at Grove City College about imparting what is good, true, and beautiful to our students. These transcendental concepts, appreciated for hundreds of years, are what shapes us as people, not just as workers. We are not here to just pass on information; we are more concerned with the formation of souls. The liberating arts are full of these good, true, and beautiful elements: from momentous occasions in history to perplexing philosophical questions, from stunning literary passages to exhilarating orchestral harmonies, from the complex structure of atoms to the profound truths in the very Word of God, there is gift after gift for the student to unwrap.
Regardless of the student’s future career—and our data shows that Grove City students will go on to have fulfilling careers—we want them to go forth with a greater appreciation for God, His world, and the people around them. Practically speaking, a person in his or her early 20s is likely to go on to several different careers throughout a lifetime2, many of which are completely unforeseen while the student is in college. While skill development is an important element of the college degree, there is much more life preparation that takes place during a student’s four years on our campus.
Various majors at Grove City College will prepare our students for thriving careers, but it is the core curriculum—the liberating arts—that will prepare them for thriving lives.
Technical training is good, and can be found in many places, but the combination of training with whole-souled wisdom is something unique to a school like Grove City College.3 As Steve Jobs once said, “it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”4 There is so much more to education than job training. The rich content of the liberal arts, and the ensuing conversations that students will have as they go through the core curriculum together, will prepare them in broad and deep ways.
Cultivation of Virtue
In addition to these benefits of a liberal arts education, there is also the cultivation of virtue that happens in the core. While students are exposed to things that are good, true, and beautiful, and also shown the contrast to things that are not, they are shaping their appetites. They are developing wisdom, and keener senses of other virtues like courage and diligence and love.
As their worlds expand beyond their own neighborhoods, they see examples of those who have gone before them and alongside them, whether in history or literature, and they can learn from those examples. As they are exposed to new, challenging ideas, they flex new “muscles” and grow in beneficial ways. Ultimately, because our entire curriculum centers around Christ revealed to us in the Bible, our hope is that as students see more of Him, they will become more like Him.
Finally, in addition to all the content, conversations, and cultivation of virtue that a liberal arts education provides, it also prepares students for their great roles in this world, as restorers. Cornelius Platinga, Jr. sums it up this way: “The point of all this learning is to prepare to add one’s own contribution to the supreme reformation project, which is God’s restoration of all things that have been corrupted by evil.”5 This is our great hope for all Grove City College graduates: that they will go forth in greater knowledge and wisdom from this City on a Hill to be light and salt in the world that so desperately needs both.
“Education means emancipation. It means light and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the light by which men can only be made free.” – Frederick Douglass, Blessings of Liberty and Education. Speech, 1894.
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2021 reported that people between the ages of 18 and 54 had over 12 different jobs in that span. https://www.bls.gov/nls/questions-and-answers.htm#anch41
- Ryan West, Educating for Whole-souled Christian Wisdom, unpublished manuscript.
- Cornelius Platinga Jr., Engaging God’s World, p. xii
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Originally posted here.
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—Dr. Peter Frank is the Provost & Vice President of Academic Affairs at Grove City College. Frank also teaches economics.
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