Summer Thoughts on Liberal Education

Yesterday I spoke about liberal education with NPR’s Eric Westervelt on All Things Considered. Here are a few excerpts:

On the long debate over liberal arts education in America

This tension between the useful and the wide-ranging, that tension goes all the way back to the founding of this country — because even though Jefferson and Emerson, let’s say, were very much in favor of a wide-ranging and broad education, they also thought the proof was in the pudding. You had to be able to do something with it, and Jefferson talked about the useful arts. He thought you’re going to be less useful or less pragmatic if you narrowed yourself too early.

On whether higher education is necessary for success

There are people who just think, “Some of us just don’t need a lot of education. Most people need something more specialized because the economy has shifted.” … Throughout American history people have said, “Yes, it’s because the economy has shifted.” They said that in 1918, they said that in 1948, and now they’re saying it again.

Today the shifts in the economy mean technological change will only produce accelerated pace of innovation, of changing relations to audiences. A broad, wide-ranging education is the best way to be able to shape that change rather than just be victimized by it.

You can listen to the full interview here.

1 thought on “Summer Thoughts on Liberal Education”

  1. Thank so for sharing these insightful perspectives on the value of a liberal education. They resonate deeply with what I learned while at Wesleyan (I’m class of 1997- Go Wes!) and also what I’ve learned through my years as an educator. While I deeply appreciate President Roth’s comments regarding post-secondary education, I believe that we need to start earlier. With a renewed focus in the U.S. on preparing students for the workforce, I feel that far too many students are being tracked into career pathway programs early in their teenage adolescence, long before they have truly identified the things that they are interested in learning and passionate about pursuing as a possible career. I’m proud to be on the leadership team at Big Picture Learning ( where we work to personalize learning at the secondary level in ways that are liberating to students in terms of developing their creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, all while seeking to develop empathy and deep connection to their local communities. (see here for additional comments –

    Thank you again to President Roth for these remarks and I hope that his powerful book is getting nominated for the Frederick W. Ness Book award (and many others!) I think that it is well-deserving – (I would be happy to write a letter in support of it’s nomination)

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