The Death of Learning: How American Education Has Failed Our Students and What to Do About It
By John Agresto
JMC board member John Agresto has recently written a book, The Death of Learning: How American Education Has Failed Our Students and What to Do About It which examines the death of liberal arts education and how we can save it:
The liberal arts are dying. They are dying because most Americans don’t see the point of them. Americans don’t understand why anyone would study literature or history or the classics—or, more contemporarily, feminist criticism, whiteness studies, or the literature of postcolonial states—when they can get an engineering or business degree.
Even more concerning is when they read how “Western civilization” has become a term of reproach at so many supposedly thoughtful institutions; or how fanatical political correctness works hard to silence alternative viewpoints; or, more generally, how liberal studies have become scattered, narrow, and small. In this atmosphere, it’s hard to convince parents or their progeny that a liberal education is all that wonderful or that it’s even worthy of respect.
Over sixty years ago, we were introduced to the idea of “the two cultures” in higher education—that is, the growing rift in the academy between the humanities and the sciences, a rift wherein neither side understood the other, spoke to the other, or cared for the other. But this divide in the academy, real as it may be, is nothing compared to another great divide—the rift today between our common American culture and the culture of the academy itself.
So, how can we rebuild the notion that a liberal education is truly of value, both to our students and to the nation? Our highest hopes may not be to “restore” the liberal arts to what they looked like fifty or a hundred years ago but to ask ourselves what a true contemporary American liberal education at its best might look like.
Remedying this situation will involve knowing clearly where we wish to go and then understanding how we might get there. For those objectives, this book is meant to be the beginning.
John Agresto on “The Death of Learning and What to Do About It”
The Hugh Hewitt Show with Hugh Hewitt
The Radio Free Hillsdale Hour with Scot Bertram
“Why High School Teachers Need to Teach Liberal Arts”
By John Agresto for RealClear Education
A book I wrote called “The Death of Learning” has been generating some attention, both good and bad. It catalogs the decline of traditional liberal arts education in America – especially in our colleges and universities – and offers some modest and fairly traditional ways to turn this situation around.
But what most commentators have overlooked is that the book actually begins with my concerns about the decline of the liberal arts in those places where they once flourished – in our public and private high schools and academies.
Let me see if I can review the problem as I see it.
It’s been my experience that many high school teachers truly love some aspect of the liberal arts. Even more than many university professors, who can sometimes be devoted more to their research projects than to the broad sweep of their field, you are in love with History or Literature, French or Science.
Having said that, if your students do not get a liberal education under your tutelage, they almost certainly will never get one…
John Agresto is the former President of St. John’s College. John has taught at the University of Toronto, Kenyon College, Duke University and The New School. He has written in the areas of politics, law, and education for The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Academic Questions, and History of American Political Thought, among others. John formerly served as a senior adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research of the Coalition Provisional Authority. He is the former provost and chancellor of the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani.
John received his A.B from Boston College and a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University. He is currently a probate judge for Santa Fe County.
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