Beyond the university Why liberal education matters

Michael S. Roth, 1957-

Book - 2014

"Contentious debates over the benefits-or drawbacks-of a liberal education are as old as America itself. From Benjamin Franklin to the Internet pundits, critics of higher education have attacked its irrelevance and elitism-often calling for more vocational instruction. Thomas Jefferson, by contrast, believed that nurturing a student's capacity for lifelong learning was useful for science and commerce while also being essential for democracy. In this provocative contribution to the disputes, university president Michael S. Roth focuses on important moments and seminal thinkers in America's long-running argument over vocational vs. liberal education. Conflicting streams of thought flow through American intellectual history: W. ...E. B. Du Bois's humanistic principles of pedagogy for newly emancipated slaves developed in opposition to Booker T. Washington's educational utilitarianism, for example. Jane Addams's emphasis on the cultivation of empathy and John Dewey's calls for education as civic engagement were rejected as impractical by those who aimed to train students for particular economic tasks. Roth explores these arguments (and more), considers the state of higher education today, and concludes with a stirring plea for the kind of education that has, since the founding of the nation, cultivated individual freedom, promulgated civic virtue, and instilled hope for the future"--

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New Haven ; London : Yale University Press [2014]
Main Author
Michael S. Roth, 1957- (-)
Physical Description
xii, 228 pages ; 22 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 197-210) and index.
  • From taking in the world to transforming the self
  • Pragmatism : from autonomy to recognition
  • Controversies and critics
  • Reshaping ourselves and our societies.
Review by Choice Review

In this slender but readable volume, Roth chronicles the tradition of liberal learning and makes a compelling case for it in the face of today's strong countercurrents. Roth is the author of five books on intellectual history and president of Wesleyan Univ., a highly selective Connecticut liberal arts college. Here he presents the extraordinary place of the liberal arts in America's history; the monumental changes it has undergone; the importance of key figures in its history; and the controversies and issues faced in the past and which are faced today by those who believe in, advance, and conduct liberal learning. The author's core premise is far from unique: while obsolescence is an unwanted but inevitable outcome of vocational/ professional education, liberal education provides the lifelong necessities for a life of quality. Far from reactionary, Roth's perspective is forward-looking and innovative. Though initially a skeptic about massive open online courses (MOOCs), for example, he tells of the rewarding experience in which a virtual worldwide learning community emerged around a MOOC he planned and conducted. This book merits a wide readership. It would provide especially valuable information to parents who are distraught over cost and inclined to see the benefit of higher education only in material terms. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. --J. David Gillespie, College of Charleston

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

Wesleyan University president Roth adds his voice to the current debate about college education. Is it vocational instruction meant to lead to immediate employment after graduation or a time for expansive ideas and self-exploration? He argues that liberal education, with its emphasis on critical thinking, is an important part of American ideals of democracy. He traces the historical roots of liberal education from the ancient Greeks through the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment. But he focuses on American thinkers, including Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois, William James, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jane Addams, John Dewey, and others. He examines the old debate about the usefulness and even democracy of a liberal education whether it is aimed at the elite and is useless for the masses as well as current threats from the government, from business, from political interests, and within the universities themselves. Roth argues that the utilitarians who push toward the practical will turn out graduates trained for yesterday's jobs who have not learned the intellectual rigor and flexibility needed to adjust to whatever the future may bring.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

This timely volume by Wesleyan University president Roth (Memory, Trauma, and History) makes the case for liberal education in America-"broadly based, self-critical and yet pragmatic" learning that encourages independent thinking, empathy, and understanding. For Roth, and the intellectuals he cites-Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, W.E.B. DuBois, William James, Jane Addams, John Dewey, Richard Rorty, and others-liberal learning make us and our society better; it makes our democracy stronger; it helps people overcome prejudice. It helps us "navigate in the world." And even if such study doesn't provide vocational training, it creates "habits of action" that make us better thinkers and workers, and helps us tackle society's problems. Using intellectual history to support his position that liberal education matters as much as ever, Roth takes the reader on a journey from the 18th century to today, as he explores how liberal education has figured in the growth of the U.S. Those with more than a passing knowledge of the subject may find some of his recounting basic, but both the introduction and the last chapter include Roth's more personal experiences, and his direct, passionate voice is moving and persuasive. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Review by Library Journal Review

Roth (president, history, Wesleyan Univ.) argues that liberal education is not only necessary for individual development but is essential for the growth of active -citizens and for the vitality of a democratic government. He explores American intellectual history to present major thinkers who strongly supported a broad humanistic education. Thomas Jefferson shaped early American political institutions and founded the -University of Virginia in 1819 with a rich curriculum to prepare thoughtful citizens to lead the new republic. Two 19th--century -African American writers, Frederick -Douglass (1818-1895) and David Walker (1796-1830), promoted higher education as an instrument for ending slavery and liberating slaves. Roth emphasizes other key American writers, including Benjamin Franklin, Jane -Addams, and John Dewey, as advocates for a pragmatic education enhancing individual progression and societal advancement. While Roth explains recent attacks on universities that call for a return to the traditional canon or a focus on vocationalism, he rejects these movements and asserts that liberal education is still relevant and essential to a healthy national community. VERDICT Recommended for readers interested in higher education. This title will also appeal to those who wish to explore U.S. intellectual history as a thoughtful examination of the educational vision of major American writers-a vision that remains essential to a vital contemporary society.-Elizabeth -Hayford, formerly with Associated Coll. of the Midwest, Evanston, IL (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

An academic's defense of the liberal arts, as he surveys the tensions in higher education throughout American history.During times of increased specialization, economic downturn and staggering student loans, the argument rages once again as to whether higher education is a worthy investment or if colleges should function more like trade schools, preparing students for specific jobs that would justify the tuition costs. Wesleyan University president Roth (Memory, Trauma, and History: Essays on Living with the Past, 2011, etc.) argues differently, countering that "the demand that we replace broad contextual education meant to lead to lifelong learning with targeted vocational undergraduate instruction is a critical mistake." Furthermore, in "an age of seismic technological change and instantaneous information dissemination, it is more crucial than ever that we not abandon the humanistic frameworks of education in favor of narrow, technical forms of teaching intended to give quick, utilitarian results." Such a conclusion is not surprising and not likely to convince skeptics, but what's more illuminating is the context provided. The charge that higher education is elitist, out of touch and disconnected from the working world is one that Benjamin Franklin made centuries ago, and debates have continued ever since about what higher education is for and who should receive it. While underscoring the democratic spirit of a liberal arts education, one designed to produce "active citizens rather than passive subjects," Roth traces how even the Founding Fathers of the republic restricted that education to patrician white males, excluding women, slaves and othersand that the question of whether farmers need to be able to read Shakespeare has long sparked debate. Between pragmatism and idealism, the author strikes a moderate, balanced approach.The result is more like a primer on the history of higher education than a manifesto. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.