Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, by Michael S. Roth. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014. 228 pages. Sacred Heart University: LC1011 .R75 2014 (New Book Display, First Floor)
As his title implies, author Michael S. Roth, president of Wesleyan University, claims in this book that liberal education does indeed matter – more than ever, and beyond the campus. He asserts:
“In an age of seismic technological change and instantaneous information dissemination, it is more crucial than ever that we not abandon the humanistic frameworks of education in favor of narrow, technical forms of teaching intended to give quick, utilitarian results. These results are no substitute for the practice of inquiry, critique, and experience that enhances students’ ability to appreciate and understand the world around them – and to innovatively respond to it.” (p.10)
Roth centers his book around a cogent history of liberal education in the United States, within which he makes his argument. In the process, he points out that the current controversy over the worth of liberal education is not a new phenomenon in this country, but goes back to the nation’s founding – noting, for example, a satirical essay by Benjamin Franklin about Harvard and elite colleges. Yet, Roth tells us, Franklin himself was self-taught, and although he “was a critic of the formalized education of his day, he remained a passionate advocate of lifelong learning.” (p.100)
No stranger to new technology, Dr. Roth teaches a humanities class as a MOOC, offering liberal learning to thousands of students of diverse ages and nationalities who signed up for his class. He found a very high level of activity and engagement among his students, and great eagerness to learn: “They had, in sum, an appetite for liberal learning that extended far beyond the college years and the campus boundaries.” (p.15).
A review of Roth’s book in the Washington Post was written by Christopher B. Nelson, president of St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD -- which bases its curriculum on study of great books.