Colleges across America are facing budget shortfalls, with many choosing to eliminate certain academic programs — including those central to a liberal arts education. Degrees in fields such as theology, philosophy, and history may be disappearing at other schools, but Christendom College professors Dr. Brendan McGuire and Dr. Mark Wunsch argue for the opposite in a new academic overview written for Christendom, stating instead that a liberal arts education prepares young men and women for success with “disciplined minds, discerning hearts, and cultured souls.”
McGuire, a history professor, and Wunsch, a philosophy professor, dig into why a liberal arts education is so important today in their overview, refuting the argument that such an education is useless in the modern world. Rather, a liberal arts education “frees the mind,” according to McGuire and Wunsch, enabling students to escape the narrowness of modern culture.
“Liberal education frees the mind, from cultural narrowness as well as from fallacious thought, preparing young men and women for lives spent in the pursuit of wisdom, both human and divine,” write McGuire and Wunsch. “All wise men acknowledge that education is an arduous journey and a lifelong endeavor. Here at Christendom College, young men and women embark upon that journey living in community and guided by expert scholars in theology and philosophy, Latin and Greek, mathematics and science, history, literature, politics, and modern languages.”
At a large university, a student might choose one course of study and stay firmly within that course of study for their entire college education. While they may leave with a high-level of knowledge of that field, they also leave lacking in areas that prior generations did not — such as knowledge of philosophy. It is for that reason that McGuire and Wunsch advocate for the value of a core curriculum, which provides students with a well-rounded education, before embarking on a major.
“Our core curriculum provides all our students with a thorough education across the disciplines, allowing them to choose a major field of study from a position of insight and intellectual maturity. The structure of our core curriculum is guided by several principles, among them the conviction that truth can be known by the human mind, the confidence that faith and reason have nothing to fear from one another, and commitment to the intrinsic value and complementarity of humanistic and scientific knowledge,” write McGuire and Wunsch.
At Christendom, students engage with a range of humanistic intellectual pursuits, including history, literature, and foreign languages. The study of foreign languages, especially Latin and Greek, enables students to better understand works of philosophy, theology, poetry, and history, while the study of both history and literature makes it possible for students to study text within its proper context. When students read Greek tragedies, they do so with knowledge of ancient Athens, just as they read Shakespeare in light of knowing the history of Tudor England.
“Through the study of languages, history, and literature, every Christendom student becomes grounded in true Christian humanism, but humanism—though essential—does not constitute education on its own,” state McGuire and Wunsch. “The mind of man was also made for knowledge of the natural world, for mathematic and scientific deduction, for speculative and abstract thought, for moral reasoning, and ultimately for knowledge of God. Thus, all Christendom students take courses in mathematics and natural science, in political science, in philosophy, and in sacred theology.”
The study of mathematics helps students to learn how to seek truth for its own sake, while the study of the natural sciences provide students with insight into the reality of the created order of things. Political science is essential as well, helping students study political philosophy and the common good, while theology enables students to pursue the study of the Church’s rich tradition of social doctrine. Philosophy and theology together, in particular, give students the opportunity to encounter the great tradition of Western thought and come to know and marvel at the very mysteries of God.
By studying all of these different branches of the liberal arts, students are not wasting their time with meaningless subjects before choosing their major — they are, instead, preparing to “approach their respective disciplines as liberally educated men and women.”
“When they receive their degrees, and move on to their professional and personal vocations, Christendom alumni do so with disciplined minds, discerning hearts, and cultured souls,” conclude McGuire and Wunsch.
Colleges across America may be eliminating the liberal arts from their course offerings, but to do so is a mistake. At Christendom, this tradition of thought will continue, preparing students to not just live successful lives, but fulfill a noble calling, first outlined by Christendom’s founder, Dr. Warren H. Carroll: to “restore all things in Christ.”