There are many who contend that higher education should just focus on occupational studies and get rid of “elitist” liberal arts courses that merely support “whiteness.”
But there is another view, that the liberal arts should have a central place in higher education and are not at all “elitist.” A recent book entitled The Love of Learning by Margarita Mooney makes that case and in today’s Martin Center article, Jenna Robinson reflects on the book’s message.
Mooney is a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and founder of the Scala Foundation, which supports the idea that beauty and wisdom are central to a student’s education. Of her book, Robinson writes, “It is a refreshing discussion on both the importance and practice of the liberal arts, especially at religious institutions. Through conversations with seven scholars from across the humanities, Mooney offers better ways of understanding and addressing the big questions and tensions that our universities face.”
What about the charge of elitism? Why should students from underrepresented minority groups bother reading works by dead white men?
Roosevelt Montas of Columbia University replies to that charge. Robinson writes:
Montás underlines this point several times: classics are for everyone, not just for the ‘privileged.’ He cites examples of W.E.B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, and Booker T. Washington praising the classics for their ability to speak to all people. He says of Du Bois:
The classical learning tradition, he insisted, the liberatory tradition, properly belongs to everyone. Du Bois called on the universality of the liberal tradition to empower the project of civil rights and equal citizenship.
The remaining advocates of liberal-arts education should take heart from that.
Robinson concludes, “Together, the discussions in The Love of Learning are revelatory. So this is what has been missing from American higher education! This passion and purpose. Part Socratic dialogue, part inspired how-to guidelines, Love of Learning should be required reading for anyone who wants to restore the liberal arts to their rightful place in higher education.”