Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Quotes About Liberal Arts Education, Authentic Learning, and What Academy Life Should Emphasize

     I often find that just the right quote in the right places communicates a great deal more than thousands of poorly crafted words.  Of course, random quotes, taken out of context may distort the intention of the author.  With these quotes, I am confident that the range of authors were admirers and defenders of the Great Tradition and related subjects.  With that in mind, here are all sorts of quotes on Liberal Arts,  Authentic Learning, and What Academy Life Should Emphasize
     Note, there is no rhyme or reason to the order of the quotes and the author's name is given first, then the quote....Be edified!
Mortimer Adler

There are and always will be a relatively small number of highly gifted, strongly motivated teachers who manage, in spite of all adverse conditions, to perform creditably, even magnificently.

If you never ask yourself any questions about the meaning of a passage, you cannot expect the book to give you any insight you do not already possess.

The direct product of liberal education is a good mind, well disciplined in its processes of inquiring and judging, knowing and understanding, and well furnished with knowledge, well cultivated by ideas.

On the assets of Liberal education,  it contributes—a good mind,…and a good mind is useful…

How does the teacher aid discovery and elicit the activity of the student’s mind?  By inviting and entertaining questions, by encouraging and sustaining inquiry,…by leading discussions,…

The most important kind of doing, so far as learning is concerned, is intellectual or mental doing.

Socrates…describes himself as an inquiring teacher, one who asks questions and pursues answers to get the truth.  He called his method of teaching something like midwifery because he viewed it as assisting the labor of his companions in giving birth to ideas.

The teacher’s role in discussion is to keep it going along fruitful lines—by moderating, guiding, correcting, leading, and arguing like one more student! The teacher is first among equals.  All must have the sense that they are participating as equals, as is the case in a genuine conversation…These basic insights are epitomized by Socrates…he describes his role as a teacher by analogy with the service performed by a midwife who does nothing more than assist the pregnant mother to give birth with less pain and more assurance.  So, according to Socrates, the teacher assists the inquiring mind of the learner to give birth to knowledge, facilitating the process of discovery on the learner’s part.

The teacher who has stopped learning is a deadening influence rather than a help to students being initiated into the ways of learning.

Thinking is only one part of the activity of learning.  One must also use one’s senses and imagination.                                                                                                 

W.H. Auden

One sign that a book has literary value is that it can be read in a number of different ways…Though a work of literature can be read in a number of ways, this number is finite and can be arranged in a hierarchical order; some readings are obviously ‘truer’ than others, some doubtful, some obviously false,…                                                                                                                                                           

Jacques Barzun

There is indeed the university’s primary task, the fundamental work upon which all the other services depend.  That primary task, that fundamental work is Scholarship…in the study and the classroom, it is research and teaching.
Wendell Berry

    The predicament of literature within the university is not fundamentally different from the predicament of any other discipline, which is not fundamentally different from the predicament of language.  That is, the various disciplines have ceased to speak to each other; they have become too specialized, and this over-specialization, this separation, of the disciplines has been enabled and enforced by the specialization of their languages.  As a result, the modern university has grown, not according to any unifying principle, like an expanding universe, but according to the principle of miscellaneous accretion, like a furniture storage business.

The thing being made in a university is humanity.  
Underlying the idea of a university—the bringing together, the combining into one, of all the disciplines—is the idea that good work and good citizenship are the inevitable by-products of the making of a good—that is, a fully developed—human being.  This, as I understand it, is the definition of the name university.

Daniel J. Boorstin

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance—it is the illusion of knowledge.

Stratford Caldecott

Symptoms of our educational crisis, such as the fragmentation of the disciplines, the separation of faith and reason, the reduction of quality to quantity, and the loss of a sense of ultimate purpose, are directly related to a lack of historical awareness on the part of students. An integrated curriculum must teach subjects, and it must teach the right subjects, but it should do so by incorporating each subject, even mathematics and the hard sciences, within the history of ideas, which is the history of our culture.

The classical ‘Liberal Arts’ tradition of the West once offered a form of humane education that sought the integration of faith and reason, and that combined the arts and the sciences, before these things became separated, fragmented, and trivialized.

Christopher Dawson

The spirit of Christian humanism finds expression in Alcuin’s own letters to Charles the Great: ‘If your intentions are carried out,’ he writes, ‘it may be that a new Athens will arise in France, and an Athens fairer than the old, for our Athens, ennobled by the teaching of Christ, will surpass the wisdom of the Academy.  The old Athens had only the teachings of Plato to instruct it, yet even so it flourished by the seven liberal arts.  But our Athens will be enriched by the gift of the Holy Spirit and will, therefore surpass all the dignity of earthly wisdom’.

Albert Einstein

The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.

Joseph Epstein

In academic life, in my experience, there is no real conversation; just various people awaiting their turn to hold forth.


Bring a ‘scholar’ to a party: he will disrupt it either by his gloomy silence or his tedious cavils…Drag him along to a public festival: his face alone will be enough to put a damper on people’s gaiety…If he joins a conversation, everyone suddenly clams up.  

Henry Fielding

A true knowledge of the world is gained only by conversation.

Mark C. Henrie

The history and the texts must be approached as disclosing the pattern of a civilization, the highest of human temporal achievements.  The history and the texts must be understood as aids pointing beyond themselves to the true object of our interest—the truth of things.

The end of liberal education is the health of the mind.

It is probably better to say that the end of a liberal education is to civilize man.
Hugh of St. Victor

It is in the seven liberal arts, however, that the foundation of all learning is to be found.

Out of all the sciences…especially selected seven to be mastered by those who were to be educated.  These seven they considered so to excel all the rest in usefulness that anyone who had been thoroughly schooled in them might afterward come to knowledge of the others by his own inquiry and effort rather than by listening to a teacher.  For these, one might say, constitute the best instruments, the best rudiments, by which the way is prepared for the mind’s complete knowledge of philosophic truth.  Therefore they are called by the name trivium and quadrivium, because by them, as by certain ways (viae), a quick mind enters into the secret places of wisdom.

Robert Hutchins

The aim of a liberal education is excellence.

Craig W. Kallendorf

The early humanists were thus reformers of a special kind: not the kind who want to reform institutions, but the kind who want to leave institutions mostly in tact while improving the quality of the human material that directs those institutions…The great tool for this transformation of mankind was classical education: the canonical works of classical literature, which because they had such desirable effects were called bonae litterae (‘good letters’) or litterae humaniores (‘more humane letters’).  They were letters that made you morally better and more civilized.

Russell Kirk

The function of liberal learning is to order the human soul…it emancipates the mind from every narrow provincialism, whether of egoism or tradition,…
By ‘liberal studies’ we mean an ordering and integrating of knowledge for the benefit of the free person—as contrasted with technical or professional schooling, now somewhat vaingloriously called ‘career education.’

Liberal learning enables those who benefit from its discipline to achieve some degree of harmony within them.

The function of liberal education is to conserve a body of received knowledge and to impart an apprehension of order to the rising generation.

When I say that we experience an increased need for truly liberal learning, I am recommending something to leaven the lump of modern civilization—something that would give us a tolerable number of people in many walks of life who would possess some share of right reason and moral imagination; who would not shout the price of everything, but would know the value of something; who would be schooled in wisdom and virtue.

Peter Kreeft

One of the functions of the teacher is to raise the dead, to make their authors present. How? Not by doing anything to the authors, but to the readers: by getting the students to read the great books as their authors intended them to be read, namely actively, questioningly, in dialogue with the author, who will speak to them from beyond the grave or from a distance if, and only if, the reader asks the right questions, the logical questions. The reader may thus get the alarming sense that he is being haunted by the ghost of the writer. A great book, properly read, becomes not just a dead object but a living subject, a person, or the ghost of a person.
As arms, legs, hands, hearts, brains, lungs, and all the other body parts make a single human body—and as the plot, characters, setting, theme, and style make up a single story—all these subjects in the curriculum make up a single thing: an education, an e-ducare, a leading-out and leading-up into the light. It is a change, like an operation or a birth: a change in the student. It is a change from darkness to light, from small mind to large mind, that is, from ignorance to knowledge, and (much more important) from folly to wisdom.

Peter Leithart

Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes that all is vanity, and this vanity encompasses the making of and devotion to books. Devotion to liberal arts is no more vain than any other human pursuit, but neither is it any less vain. But though vanity and vapor, it is the labor that God has set in our hands, whether for a time or for a lifetime. And we can enjoy it in Him and enjoy Him in it.                                                                                                           

Knowledge can puff us with pride, but if it is received rightly, a liberal education inculcates at least one virtue: the master virtue of humility.
Robert Littlejohn and Charles T. Evans

Successful implementation of a liberal arts curriculum requires faculty who are invested in the tradition and who can envision the benefits for themselves and for their students.  The more familiar we teachers are with these disciplines, the more capable we are of teaching ways that promote the goals of wisdom and eloquence.  Still despite the attractiveness of the proposal, adopting new and unfamiliar perspectives on our vocation is an intimidating prospect.

Rhabanus Maurus

The seven liberal arts of the philosophers, which Christians should learn for their utility and advantage,…
Robert Royal

The Humanities are about human beings…How can we claim to be full human beings if we have not looked hard at the things that most directly concern us: ourselves and the societies in which, with others, we share the world? And how can we do so without taking seriously the best answers to such questions, which have survived the deaths of their authors, centuries of critics, and even cataclysmic changes in entire cultures?

James V. Schall

The liberal arts are not one person’s invention, but rather represent the collected wisdom of many generations and nations.  We should recognize, from the beginning, that these ‘freeing’ or ‘liberal’ arts are not simply a body of books, but a way of life enabling us to be free enough to know the truth of things.

To explain man to himself is the central purpose of any form of liberal education.

To have no articulated ‘city’ in one’s soul is the essence of an unfree man.  To have one, placed there by argument, is to be liberally educated.

What is known as ‘modern’ thought is largely the attempt to solve the classical human questions without recourse to either tradition.  Any adequate concept of ‘liberal arts’ and ‘liberal education’ would, to be intellectually complete and honest, have to attend to the Greek and Roman classical traditions, to the Hebrew and Christian revelation, to the patristic and medieval experience, and finally to modern claims, especially those arising from science and politics, even when they claim to be ‘autonomous.’

It would not be wrong to describe ‘liberal education’ as the effort to experience the proper pleasure due to knowing, according to what they are, all the things that are—seeing, tasting, listening, touching, smelling, remembering, imagining, knowing, thinking, and believing.

It is this exciting freedom to take into our souls what we are not, to take it in without changing or destroying what we take in, that constitutes the purpose of the liberal arts, which are designed to teach us how to be open to the various levels of being.


“What then,” you say, “do the liberal studies contribute nothing to our welfare?” Very much in other respects, but nothing at all as regards virtue. For even these arts of which I have spoken, though admittedly of a low grade—depending as they do, upon handiwork—contribute greatly toward the equipment of life, but nevertheless have nothing to do with virtue. And if you inquire, “Why, then, do we educate our children in the liberal studies?” it is not because they can bestow virtue, but because they prepare the soul for the reception of virtue. Just as that “primary course,” as the ancients called it, in grammar, which gave boys their elementary training, does not teach them the liberal arts, but prepares the ground for their early acquisition of these arts, so the liberal arts do not conduct the soul all the way to virtue, but merely set it going in that direction.

Allen Tate

To the question, what should the man of letters be in our time, we should have to find the answer in what we need him to do.  He must do first what he has always done: he must recreate for his age the image of man, and he must propagate standards by which other men may test that image, and distinguish the false from the true.  


We call those studies liberal, then, which are worthy of a free [liber] man; they are those through which virtue and wisdom are either practiced or sought, and by which our minds are disposed towards the best things.