The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal: “Why We Need the Liberal Arts: John Agresto’s new book reminds us of an essential truth”
By Wilfred McClay
JMC faculty partner and board member Wilfred McClay has written an article for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal on John Agresto’s recent book, The Death of Learning, and the need for a liberal arts education:
John Agresto’s splendid new book, The Death of Learning, is not nearly as depressing as its title might lead one to expect. On the contrary, it is an exhilarating read and, in the end, I find it to be hopeful. There is something refreshing about hearing the truth being told plainly, even when that truth is dismal and the diagnosis dire. At least you know what’s wrong.
And there is something clarifying in the book’s utter frankness about all the things that have gone wrong, all that has been debased and lost, and the bitter irony that so much of the worst damage has been brought about by liberal education’s putative high priests and exemplars.
On the positive side, one cannot help but be moved by the book’s directness and clarity in advocating for what is precious and irreplaceable about such an education, and why we need to recover it. Although he has had extensive experience as a college and university president, Agresto does not concern himself with the minutiae of academic administration, digital learning, tutti quanti. Instead, he spends his time thinking about the highest aims of education, how we have fallen short of them, and how we can see them restored. Bravo to that...
JMC board member John Agresto’s book, The Death of Learning: How American Education Has Failed Our Students and What to Do About It 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.
Wilfred M. McClay is the Victor Davis Hanson Chair in Classical History and Western Civilization at Hillsdale College. He previously served as Professor of History and G.T & Libby Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma. Bill is an American intellectual historian and noted public intellect. He has taught at Georgetown, Tulane, John Hopkins, University of Dallas, and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where he held the SunTrust Bank Chair of Excellence in Humanities. He is a Senior Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a member of the Philadelphia Society.
Bill has received fellowship awards from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Academy of Education, among others, and written multiple books and articles. Bill was awarded the Bradley Prize in 2022.
Professor McClay is a JMC board member.
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