Current News

Berkowitz in WSJ: Proper Liberal Education Forms Individuals Fit for Freedom

Progress depends on mastering the basics, Professor Peter Berkowitz states in his Wall Street Journal op-ed critical of what he calls the "compassless curriculum" widely offered today by universities.

"A university that fails to teach students sound mental habits and to acquaint them with enduring ideas handicaps its graduates for public and private life,"says Berkowitz, pointing out that it is the little in common that students take away from their college experience that has the greatest significance, allowing them to "acquire a common intellectual foundation that enables them to debate morals and politics responsibly, enhances their understanding of whatever specialization they choose, and enriches their appreciation of the multiple dimensions of the delightful and dangerous world in which we live."

Our Compassless Colleges, The Wall Street Journal, August 5, 2007. By Peter Berkowitz.

Excerpt:
"Moreover, properly conceived, a liberal education provides invaluable benefits for students and the nation. For most students, it offers the last chance, perhaps until retirement, to read widely and deeply, to acquire knowledge of the opinions and events that formed them and the nation in which they live, and to study other peoples and cultures. A proper liberal education liberalizes in the old-fashioned and still most relevant sense: It forms individuals fit for freedom.

"The nation benefits as well, because a liberal democracy presupposes an informed citizenry capable of distinguishing the public interest from private interest, evaluating consequences, and discerning the claims of justice and the opportunities for -- and limits to -- realizing it in politics. Indeed, a sprawling liberal democracy whose citizens practice different religions and no religion at all, in which individuals have family heritages that can be traced to every continent, and in which the nation's foreign affairs are increasingly bound up with local politics in countries around the world is particularly dependent on citizens acquiring a liberal education.

"Crafting a core consistent with the imperatives of a liberal education will involve both a substantial break with today's university curriculum and a long overdue alignment of higher education with common sense. Such a core would, for example, require all students to take semester courses surveying Greek and Roman history, Eruropean history, and American history. It would require all students to take a semester course in classic works of European literature, and one in classic works of American literature. It would require all students to take a semester course in biology and one in physics. It would require all students to take a semester course in the principles of American government; one in economics; and one in the history of political philosophy. It would require all students to take a semester course comparing Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It would require all students to take a semester course of their choice in the history, literature or religion of a non-Western civilization. And it would require all students to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language of their choice by carrying on a casual conversation and accurately reading a newspaper in the language, a level of proficiency usually obtainable after two years of college sudy, or four semester courses."

Read the article (available by subscription)