The Reward Of A Liberal Education

1023 words - 4 pages

Newman defines liberal knowledge, or enlargement, as a cultivation or stimulation of the mind, with both mechanical (practical) and philosophical content, that builds an "intellect to reason well in all matters," develops character, brings about change, and lasts throughout life. (1.6.126-134, 2.1.50-52) Liberal knowledge is important because it brings a respect and balance to various disciplines of study, and aids in the pursuit of specific subject matters. This knowledge allows the learner to see their individual area of study in relationship to a whole. Liberal education does not compete with these disciplines but rather compliments them. (1.1.70-71) Ideally liberal education supports and open mindedness that promotes understanding and a willingness to entertain different ideas and perspectives. This philosophy can help to avoid what Newman describes as an exaggerated view of one subject allowing for critical evaluation of what is perceived. Enlargement opens the mind and allows it to "digest, master, rule, and use its knowledge," and by doing so become incorporated into, and a vital part of the environment. (1.9.687-695) This knowledge then becomes its own goal or reward, making it "desirable and worthy irrespective of the results." (1.6.141-448) "As we escape the pressure of necessary cares...we learn" (1.3.180-182) and it is this learning that "lasts through life." (1.1.80-81) Therefore, Newman's enlargement incorporates more than just rote learning of facts to seek truth and inter-connected meaning in the world. (1.9.656-660) As we process knowledge, discriminating between fact and fiction, it remains with us as a base for future reference.
Education, as Newman proposes, can take two distinct forms: philosophical which provides general ideas, or mechanical that is particular and practical to a specific focus. (1.6.388-392) It is the mixing of colors (practical education) to produce varying shades and hues (liberal knowledge) that remains with us a lifetime and is part of the "condition of our happiness." (1.3.164-167) His illustration compares this education to colors that can change when mixed or shaded (1.1.31-36) We may begin with basic colors of yellow, red, blue and green but when mixed they become different colors or a different shade of the original. Thus as the educational or knowledge base is layered, greater opportunity exists to achieve greater meaning from all learning endeavors.
Knowledge becomes important not for a practical foundation but provides a perspective on how we view and experience life. I refer back to Newman's example of the tree of knowledge in which there is growth of fresh shoots, buds, and blossoms that ripen. Not all shoots will be the same length, the buds will not appear at the same time, and the blossoms will not all be the same color. The tree, as a whole, takes in the sunlight, water and nutrients from the soil but processes it with slight variation within its parts. (1.8.560-564) Just as this class...

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