Negotiating Our Tradition: Liberal Education and the Pre-Professional Arts

Barbara Ungar, Professor of English, discussed how and why it is important to teach poetry to today’s undergraduates. First she addressed the issue of how to get today’s students interested while they are living in a culture centered on the exterior. In our consumer culture people are concerned with jobs, looks, technology, and the media; poetry dealing with rape, incest, pain, abuse, and self-mutilation reflects this culture. Some techniques Ungar uses in her poetry course act as spiritual support for accessing and dealing with the interiority of student’s lives. Ungar takes students through exercises in movement, yoga, modern dance, breathing, and, what she focused on for the rest of her presentation, meditation, to accomplish this. In a meditation exercise, Ungar would bring her students into a meditative state and then read to them the day’s assignments. After coming out of the meditative state she would have students free-write and then discuss what they read, heard, felt, and wrote. The effect this type of exercise has for the class, Ungar finds, is bringing them into a deeper experience with the text, getting them in touch with their interior spaces, and helping them learn to read in a deeper way.

Steve Black, Faculty Librarian, talked about how a liberal education makes for well-rounded students by helping them gain knowledge, skills, and a range of perspectives. A problem that teachers face in liberal education is that a student taking general/liberal education courses often only takes one class from each of that academic areas; they are only able to “dip their toes in.” It is essential, however, to try to ensure that students come away with the realization that they do not know everything about everything. To demonstrate this type of awakening, ? discussed his experience traveling abroad in Germany. Having taken courses in the German language, ? assumed that he would have no problem communicating in and understanding the foreign language. The reality of the situation, however, revealed that ? didn’t know German as well as he thought, nor did he account for the fact that practicing the language and actually speaking it in-country are very different situations. It was at this point that ? realized there was so much he thought he knew that, in reality, he did not. It is this sense of humility that is the ideal situation for a student, and it is one that a liberal education can help foster. With a realization like this, a student becomes aware of their own assumptions, and this is very important in their development as thinkers.

Margaret Kirwin, Dean of the School of Education, spoke about the value of a liberal education that informs teacher education programs and specifically how a liberally educated teacher teaches kids. When thinking about educating teachers, pedagogy—the “how”—is important, but what to teach and to whom is imperative as well. Something Kirwin wants her students do is to think about the discipline they will be teaching to students in terms of the student’s adult level of consciousness; teachers should envision their students’ path to adulthood. When teaching a child then, though it is important that content is at the appropriate level, they should envision the child-learner as the adult-product as well. One project that Kirwin uses with her students is to imagine a hypothetical audience, develop a unit theme (this would be some liberal arts content theme), and develop some interdisciplinary way to teach. This requires the education student to understand the concept they want their students to arrive at, which might involve working them through other concepts or terminology. This project is effective because it requires education students to continually demonstrate the content of their projects. The goal for the education students with this project is to teach their students content substance and engage them in a way that meets all levels of their students’ needs. This learning/teaching process helps students/future teachers see any assumptions they may have had about given topics that they are taught/teaching.

Below, Professor Steve Black’s handout on the Liberal Education Goal Statement.

Liberal Education Goal Statement

Education liberates the mind, freeing it from the constraints of unexamined convention and habit. Our faculty envisions a liberating education that develops students’ skills, knowledge, and perspectives in many contexts, empowering them to critically evaluate and appreciate the full range of human experience.

The program of liberal education at The College of Saint Rose is intended to achieve this goal through a broad introduction to knowledge and ways of thinking in the arts, humanities, behavioral and physical sciences and mathematics. Students work individually and collaboratively to achieve proficiency in written and oral communication, critical thinking, and information literacy in challenging courses that involve problem-based inquiry and analysis of diverse points of view. Our students learn how to be environmentally knowledgeable and socially responsible citizens who make ethical decisions based on mutual respect. Students gain a global perspective through knowledge of other cultures and engagement with the diversity in our own society, including our local urban community. We envision that this process will lead our students to integrate their learning and reflect on how their liberal education enriches their lives and enhances their role in society.

Quotes about the meaning and purpose of a liberal education

·     “A liberal education is one in which you learn something about everything, and not just everything about something.”

·     “A liberal education teaches you how to live in the real world, how to be open and accepting of others and their differences.”

·     “Liberal education allows students to expand their perceptions of the world. That expanded viewpoint is necessary for an undergraduate education. Creating a higher level of civic awareness involves higher level thought and critical thinking that will make for stronger citizens and ethically sound human beings.”

·     “It helps you be an overall well rounded citizen of the world.”

Three Necessary Interconnected Elements:

KNOWLEDGE

SKILLS

PERSPECTIVE/attitudes

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