Core Decorum: what do the liberal arts teach us?

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Illustration courtesy of Cecilia Lang

“Liberal arts” is a term that is tossed around constantly at the University of Dallas; it is ingrained deeply in every facet of our lives, curriculum, and classes. But what does this phrase actually mean? Or, more importantly, why should we care? 

The dictionary defines liberal arts as “academic subjects such as literature, philosophy, mathematics, and social and physical sciences as distinct from professional and technical subjects.” Any UD student is familiar with the physical manifestation of a liberal arts education, with seemingly endless classes on literature, philosophy, etc. But what value does that bring us as students? 

When considering this question, it is important to look cohesively at these classes and to consider the overall benefit from participating in them. So what does each class, regardless of its academic classification, have in common?

While the composition of a liberal arts education can seem scattered—with its classes in everything from physical science to philosophy—it provides its scholars with a wide breadth of understanding in the pursuit of the truth.

We’ve all heard this phraseology before, and it’s easy to quickly dismiss it as trite. However, it is necessary to consider the way in which such an education teaches us to confront the Truth. 

We are not unceremoniously dragged to the foot of Truth and dropped there, nor are we left to vaguely wander the labyrinth of human experience unguided. Instead, a liberal education teaches us to ask questions. 

Our education demands that we continuously reinvent and reimagine our own convictions and beliefs as we encounter them through art, literature, and science. As we go, our questions build one upon one another and extend beyond the scope of one particular classroom, resulting in a dynamic, complex, and constantly evolving community of learning. 

This ability to ask questions, search for answers, and subsequently alter our perception of ourselves and those around us is a skill unique to a liberal arts education. 

A wide breadth of knowledge is not the indicator of a well-formed mind. Nobody thinks you’re smart because you slogged through The Iliad or analyzed the Summa Theologiae. They think you’re smart because you know how to ask a question, defend it rigorously, and remain willing to be proven wrong. 

Truly, a well-educated person is someone who is humble enough to always pursue the truth and simultaneously dares to orient their mind to that Truth. That is the value of our education here at UD. We are earning a lifestyle, not simply a degree. 

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