As I write this article, I am finishing up my first week of classes at Hillsdale College. Hillsdale is what you would call a private, liberal arts institution. Some readers might not know to what the "liberal arts" refer. It is not a study of left-wing politics. It isn't a guide to painting the best portrait of Woodrow Wilson or Bill Clinton. A liberal arts education is a means of studying many broad topics, rather than focusing on a single specific area of study. This does not mean one won't study for a degree, but rather indicates the way in which students complete their studies. Students at Hillsdale do a roughly two-year study of many areas of study, ranging from biology to philosophy. After these "core classes" are completed, the student proceeds to a more in-depth study of a particular field for their major or minor degree(s). What is the purpose of going through what seems like such an ordeal?
A liberal arts education is not given so that one can survive on their arithmetic or writing skills. Instead, it is a way to create a more well-rounded person who can theoretically function in all situations of society. The philosophy behind the liberal arts is to form a person who is well-versed in all things and, therefore, of greater potential contribution to society as a whole. Everything in this world is connected in one way or another. Currently, I'm taking a genetics class in which we not only study the scientific facts behind DNA, but also debate the questions of when life begins and the morality of abortion. A genetic biologist cannot fully do their job without contemplating the questions of abortion and other related issues, no matter their conclusions. In this way, liberal arts schools prepare a biologist, for example, to be prepared to wrestle with philosophy as it pertains to their life and occupation.
This education makes a better person out of us. As we make connections between fields of study, we are trained to really think. Liberal arts don't train the student in regurgitation, but instead work on mind-building techniques and analyze concepts we generally might not have. It certainly strengthens the mind in the best ways possible.
So why does this actually matter? In the case of Hillsdale, the college prepares students for the concept and carrying out of self-government, which is especially important in the United States. The sovereign power in America is not the Senate, Supreme Court or even the President. The sovereign power is the citizens. We vote on our leaders and policies, and in doing so, we are choosing the course of our nation. Policies that we and our representatives vote on vary as widely as the people that make America. In that case, we must have a good grasp of any given field of study. How can we hope to make an informed vote on health care, for example, if we know nothing about medicine, economics and the other related topics? In this sense, the liberal arts is one of the best methods of preparing a person to take part in steering the direction of our country. This is an amazing and serious prospect to consider. For that very reason, then, a liberal arts education is something to be taken very seriously. It is the way by which Hillsdale students (and others trained in the liberal arts) train themselves for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Though many might not know about the liberal arts, it is fundamental for creating the nation of which our Founding Fathers and ancestors only dreamed.