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About Liberal Education

E. A. Stead Jr. Oct 18, 1978

I do believe that a student is at a disadvantage when the faculty responsible for a liberal education has difficulty in defining it in clear language which creates definite pictures in the brain of the listening student. I will write out my own definitions, not so much to defend them as to stimulate the wise men (you, the reader) to come up with better pictures.

A liberal education consists of the following:

  1. The ability to define and complete a task with complete concentration. Any subject matter is equally useful. In my own experience, this was accomplished by a pretty, tough and young Latin teacher in the seventh grade. I wanted her to like me and I didn't want to take too much time from my outsoor activities. I learned to concentrate.
  2. An appreciation of the use of languages both classical and symbolic. In any long system of education, chemistry, physics, electronics, mathematics, etc. should be taught to give the student the ability to read in these areas and not for any particular subject matter. At each point in his studies, the faculty should make clear what areas he is closing out forever because of failure to master a particular language.
  3. he must memorize enough facts to give him the necssary materials to build many kinds of intellectual houses. Some help is due him from the faculty to ascertain which facts should be laid down in his brain and which are best kept in tables, book, computers and the Internet.
  4. He must take facts and interrelate them into new and useful designs. This is called thinking. One can tell whether he is causing the student to think by requiring him to answer quesetions which have no agreed-upon answer. Every question which has a definite answer can be met by some arrangement of memory -- brain, book, tables and computers. Most faculty never ask questions without definitive ansers because they put themselves at risk. The student's answer is frequently better than the professor's.
  5. He must know about the problems of communication between people. Each retina and brain being different, the end result of any stimulus is different. We know this from conceptual considerations. The only question is d how great is the difference. once we know that our perceptions are unique to ourselves, we have less difficulty in understanding human behavior.
  6. A man with a liberal education must have some knowledge of the neurologic basis of behavior. He must know that rage, hate, the Spanish Inquisition, war, prejudice are functions of the brain and are not held in check by the portion of the brain that solves differential equations.
  7. A liberally educated man has tolerance for his fellowman because he knows that his own excellent behavior is the expression of the organization of the nervous system. Injure that nervous system and he becomes as worthless as the next bum. He knows that the brain is composed of reversible and irreversible elements. Education can push the system to the limits of its capability but it cannot push beyond that point. All men are born free but not equal.
  8. A liberally educated man has learned the complexity of social and economic problems where the variables form a network, and one cannot precisely predict the results of chaning any part of the system. He knows that the complexity of the aggregates of men into families, groups, and societies is indinitel greater than the complexity of a singal organism. He does not suggest simplistic solutions for complex issues.
  9. The man with a liberal education has discovered the joy of learning and continues to lean for enjoyment until his brain fails. Any area where he has language competence is open to him and his intellectual explorations will range far and wide.

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