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Some Thoughts on Liberal Education and Integrated Learning

Education 17 Jul, 2019 Follow News

Some Thoughts on Liberal Education and Integrated Learning

In a recent column in the Jamaica Gleaner, Peter Espeut, Sociologist and Dean of Studies at St. Michael’s Theological College, laments the absence of Philosophy from the school curriculum in Jamaica. He argues that ‘… it is amazing that we expect students to do well in STEM subjects without a solid grounding in inductive and deductive logic.’


Interestingly, in 2013, one of the few Jamaican/ Caribbean academic philosophers (persons who have PhDs in the study of Philosophy) published, The Loneliness of a Caribbean Philosopher and other Essays, in which he makes a similar argument. In fact, he concludes that: ‘The Caribbean cannot hope to develop great thinkers unless it nurtures them, and in all the great civilizations I know, philosophy has been the main nursery for the development of these transformative persons.’


Philosophy, in its strictest sense, writes St. Hope Earl McKenzie, author of this book, "Includes reflections on the nature of knowledge and the ways of knowing (epistemology); the nature of reality as opposed to appearance, and why the difference matters (metaphysics); belief in God; the meaning of life, the nature of evidential relations between propositions and the principles of good reasoning (logos); and the study of how we ought to live (ethic)".


Peter Worley, writing in the Journal of Philosophy in Schools, discusses the reasons why this subject is of importance. Education in Philosophy better equips people for ethical life, improves the quality of student’s thinking and provides a space for them to think for the sake of thinking.


He says that done well, because philosophy employs and encourages critical thinking, it invites the student, not only to think for herself, but also to develop intellectual responsibility.


Frank Breslin, writing in the Huffington Post, outlines what a course of this nature would look like : …. ‘it would be a course which simply asks questions: Does life have meaning and purpose, and how do we know? What is truth and how do we know that we have it when truth and illusion feel the same way? Does truth change over time? Are beliefs the creations of our subjective needs? Are values discovered or invented? Do human beings have value? Can we know anything beyond this world?


‘Such a course would consider the various answers which have been advanced to these and similar questions over the centuries; seek to understand the historical era in which an answer arose; empathize with each answer to understand it better; analyze its respective arguments, and suggest objections and rebuttals.


‘By observing how each position qualifies, complements, or critiques the others, students would explore not only specific questions and their answers, but also the nature of critical thinking itself. Students would learn how to detect fallacies in logical reasoning; how to dissect and refute faulty arguments; how to determine what can and cannot be proven; in short, how to think, and not what to think.’


The argument for a revival of the teaching of philosophy seems to me in essence a case for the liberal arts generally. There has been for some time now a concern that in lean times, the humanities come into question and so areas like languages, the arts, literature, history, cultural studies, philosophy and religion are usually hardest hit. The ‘idealistic’ notion that critical thinking, civic and historical knowledge and ethical reasoning, areas the humanities especially develop, are necessary for effective participation in a free democracy regardless of career choice, becomes sidelined for the ‘urgent’ and the now.


A liberal education is one that ensures that a person becomes more than a specialist or technician. By taking a long range view of education and its purpose, it concentrates on what shapes a person’s understanding and values, rather than on what he can use in one or two of the changing roles he might later play. As Marshall Gregory says in his article ‘ A liberal Education Is Not A luxury’ published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Sept.12, 2008, students overriding concern should be how to develop as fully as possible their basic human birthright: their powers of imagination, aesthetic responsiveness, introspection, language, rationality, moral and ethical reasoning, physical capacities and so on.


Liberal education focuses on developing the students as fully as possible as human beings, as human persons, reflective, thinking beings and as responsible agents thus ensuring that a person becomes more than a specialist or technician. It trains but it also educates. In explaining its devotion to a liberal education, Yale University says ‘At Yale you are required to learn broadly and deeply. Depth is covered in your major. Breadth is covered in three study areas: the Humanities and the Arts; the Sciences, and the Social Sciences and three skill areas: writing, quantitative reasoning, and a foreign language.” Yale University Website-


The quotations below further embellish this view.


Fareed Zakaria in his excellent book on the subject – In Defence of a Liberal Education, says that “A Liberal Arts education teaches you how to write, how to speak your mind, and how to learn, immensely valuable tools no matter your profession. Technology and education are actually making these skills even more valuable as routine mechanical and even computational tasks can be done by machines or workers in low wage countries.”


‘Students are clamouring for degrees that will help them secure jobs in a shifting economy, but to succeed in the long term, they’ll require an education that allows them to grow, adapt and contribute as citizens. And this is why many schools are shaking up their curricula to ensure that undergraduate business majors receive something they may not even know they need- a rigorous liberal arts education.” The Atlantic, June 28, 2016.


“Business majors seem to be graduating with some of the technical skills they’ll need to secure their jobs, but without having made the gains in writing or critical skills they’ll require to succeed over the course of their careers, or to adapt as their technical skills become outdated and the nature of the opportunities they have shifts over time.” Yoni Applebaum - Business Majors and the Liberal Arts, June, 2016.


The case has been made for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) an obvious necessity in the modern world, as it has been for TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) and other areas of specialization.


In an important sense, making the case for one area over another reduces the significance of the overall project called education. Students have interests, passions and aptitudes which pay an important part in what they eventually decide to do.


The academy would do well to break down the walls of learning to find connections between disciplines in presenting a unified view of knowledge. A truncated view of knowledge is prevented through finding ways for cross-curricular and curriculum interrelatedness making for a holistic education and the holistic development of the person.


Holistic development is a process of self-actualization and learning that combines an individual's mental, physical, social, emotional and spiritual growth. Its premise is that an individual finds purpose and meaning in life through connections to the natural world, the community and through humanitarian values.


The holistic experience includes creative problem solving, critical thinking, innovation, self-awareness, reflection and self-efficacy, teamwork, communication, leadership development and time management.

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