Though essential to acquiring a liberal education at the University Dallas, serious study is not sufficient; conversation is necessary.
The Core, for all its glory, suffers from the inherent weakness of academia: specialization. Each Core course presents its own particular discipline; no course (the current “Across the Core” course excepted) offers an explanation of the relationship amongst these disciplines or their connection to liberal education as a whole. This synthesis is left to the student, who, unlike his professors, experiences the Core in its entirety. Without this knowledge of connections – knowing how one part relates to the next and each to the whole – one can hardly claim to have acquired even the beginnings of a liberal education.
To some extent, each student can acquire this knowledge through his own reflection. Passing through the theology duo, philosophy trio, and history and English quartets, every undergrad has enough knowledge of each of these various disciplines’ subjects and methods of inquiry to establish connections amongst them and with the whole – but only some. His specific major and perspective will illuminate a few connections but leave far more concealed.
That is where conversation comes in. Though sharing the same set of courses with the same Core texts, each of one’s fellow students has his own perspective to offer. Fashioned from a particular upbringing, personality and set of professors, this perspective can often fill broad blind spots in our own perspective. You see one connection; he sees an entirely different one – and you both walk away with a broader vision for it. If this were not true, why would we invest time in seminar-style classes?
That other facet of a UD education – that we each choose a major – further underscores the value of conversation. The deeper familiarity with the subject gained through our major further fashions, and enriches, our perspective. We see more clearly how our particular area of study relates to the other disciplines in the Core and to liberal education as a whole.
How does literature relate to philosophy? Or history to theology? Or politics to science? Or each to the whole of the Core? These are questions on which someone in each particular major can shed much light with the combined knowledge of both his own major and the Core. Unless you happen to major in all majors, these are questions that require more than solitary study, questions that require conversation.
Conversation, wherever it takes place, is an essential means to obtaining that knowledge that most courses will not give you. But not simply any conversation – and not all the time. Chatting about memes and relationships will only get you so far along the path to liberal education.