Day 27: Ely to Fallon, NV

Today was a long and pleasant day on the road.  We were on Highway 50 the entire day, known as the loneliest highway in the country.  There were a few climbs and many down hills today.  The temperature was just right.  It was a day that was needed after the challenge of the day before.  When you looked ahead, all you could see was the long Nevada road tens of miles ahead—some stretches felt like I would never get there.  Although it was long; overall, the day was very good.

When we arrived at the hotel parking lot, I met a Notre Dame 2009 graduate and Naval Academy graduate. They are both officers on active duty and came over to ask about what we were doing.

Day 27

These long and flat stretches of roads allows one to think a lot, so I did a lot of thinking today.  Being on the Core Curriculum Committee, I have thought a lot about the liberal arts of late.

In the face of soaring costs, student debt, and a short-term consideration of “marketable” skills, many state governments, not to mention parents and students, are turning away from traditional liberal arts education in favor of more vocational technical skills training. The liberal arts are on the defensive.

Consider the recent book by Fareed Zakaria titled In Defense of a Liberal Education. Some perceive this as following the call for a heightened emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in Rising Above the Gathering Storm, published in 2007. My career as a physicist, Dean of Engineering at Brown University, and Dean of the College of Science at the University of Notre Dame convinces me that this is a false choice. I believe that a successful STEM education requires a thorough grounding in the thinking and learning skills that come from a liberal arts education. As the scientist E.O. Wilson writes in his introduction to Zakaria’s book, “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.”

Leaders in other fields have noticed the same thing. As Father Hesburgh said, “Science can make man comfortable, but only wisdom can make man happy.” Former Beloit College President Victor E. Ferrall Jr., whose own education was in law and economics, published Liberal Arts at the Brink in 2011, urging liberal arts colleges to maintain their mission. Mark Roche, the Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., Professor of German at Notre Dame, argues in Why Choose the Liberal Arts for the intrinsic value of learning for its own sake, the cultivation of intellectual virtues, and the development of an awareness of higher purpose that the liberal arts instill. Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education: Liberal Learning for the Profession, by Anne Colby, Thomas Ehrlich, William M. Sullivan, and Jonathan R. Dolle, urges deeper integration of the liberal arts so that students gain greater practical wisdom and ethical understanding.

Education in the 21st century must equip students to navigate a world of unprecedented dynamic change, where they will constantly encounter new ideas, new people, new challenges, and new opportunities. The best preparation must include a comprehensive exposure to the wide range of human thought, activity, and art that habituates agile and critical thinking, wise judgment, collaborative openness to others’ influence, and a vision for directing technical progress toward the good of individuals and society. The liberal arts have provided such a humane and holistic education for centuries, and they are more vital now than ever before.

No Comment

Comments are closed.