Tag Archives: liberal arts education

Darwin’s Tangled Liberal Arts Education

This is the second post of a two-part essay on Darwin’s liberal arts education and its implications for education today.

Despite Darwin’s antipathy toward liberal arts education, it successfully prepared him for greatness. A closer look at three entangled features will illustrate why a liberal education succeeded in Darwin’s case, despite his disinterest. Continue reading Darwin’s Tangled Liberal Arts Education

Darwin’s Apathy for the Liberal Arts

Cambridge January 17 2010
Charles Darwin Bicentenary Statue in Cambridge

This is the first post of a two-part essay on Darwin’s liberal arts education and its implications for education today.

In 1859 Darwin brought closure to his 490-page abstract, On the Origin of Species, with the following reflection:

“It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. . . . Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

This poetic passage hides a tortured educational history. It is a narrative openly disparaging of the liberal arts, despite being penned in the spirit of the liberal arts. Continue reading Darwin’s Apathy for the Liberal Arts

Cultural Institutions, Theatre, and Humanistic Liberal Arts Education: Where Do We Go from Here?

Perennially, with justification, those who support limited choice in general, liberal education argue that menu systems (and their slightly more structured curricular cousins) lead to incoherence in the first years of the undergraduate curriculum.  On the other hand, most institutions are organized into disciplinary departments, and a menu system has been almost universally recognized as the best “market” mechanism to induce or introduce students to majors in various fields. But what happens when, particularly in the humanities, the very fields that are represented by departments are thought to be ineffective in employing their students, technologically backward in their approaches to the world, and, maybe most importantly, demographically cut off from new recruits.  What strategies then?  That’s what a recent Harvard report, and the Academic Council and Deans of America and Phi Beta Kappa in a recent conference, and Arum and Roksa’s Academically Adrift all seem to be asking. As it turns out, happily these questions are asked in terms of the fate of liberal arts education. Continue reading Cultural Institutions, Theatre, and Humanistic Liberal Arts Education: Where Do We Go from Here?