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Executive Summary: Defining Liberal Arts Education - page 13 / 14





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Operational Definition - 13

more likely to develop the intellectual arts when the faculty and the administration place a greater value on developing their students’ quality of mind than on providing training for specific careers or professions, including training students for graduate programs in liberal arts disciplines. In essence, we are arguing that the ends that institutions seek matter for their students’ intellectual development.

Factor 1 [continued]: The intellectual arts The initial set of intellectual arts we posit as the goals of liberal arts education are

  • An attitude of intellectual openness, especially to inquiry, discovery, new ideas and perspectives. The eagerness to grapple with difficult questions, to develop and act on provisional answers to these questions, and to continue to re-evaluate these provisional answers in light of experience.

  • The ability and desire to adopt a critical perspective on one’s and other’s beliefs, behaviors, values, and positions, whether this perspective leads one to a reaffirmation or revision of one’s current position.

This short, focused list neglects many of the common claims for liberal arts education, including making students more humane or “more fully human,” or developing some form of citizenship (e.g., developing “citizens for democracy” or “global citizens”). The reasons for starting with such a short list are both practical and theoretical. As we described in the first section of this paper, our practical strategy is to begin with a small set of claims for liberal arts education and work with these claims empirically. On the theoretical side, it is clear that the intellectual qualities that we describe may, if practiced in certain ways, improve an individual’s humanity or citizenship or a variety of other characteristics. However, we do not yet see any embedded values in liberal arts education that mandate that the intellectual arts be practiced in just those ways. No doubt this discussion will continue.

Factor 2: Curricular and environmental structures

Curricular and environmental structures that work in combination to create coherence and integrity in students’ intellectual experiences: Our hypothesis is that if the curriculum and the campus community are well integrated, then students are more likely to share and discuss their intellectual work in and out of the classroom. These common experiences create the sense of community, and renew and develop the shared agreement on intellectual attitudes and dispositions that the institution values. In doing so, we believe they become a catalyst for the development of the intellectual arts. Our prediction is that higher levels of integration between the curriculum and the campus environment in which students work will lead to higher levels of development of the intellectual arts.

Factor 3: Student-student and student-faculty interactions

An institutional ethos and tradition that place a strong value on student-student and student-faculty interactions both in and out of the classroom: We hypothesize that the infusion of intellectual content into student/student and student/faculty interactions outside of the classroom is far more likely to occur on campuses in which such interactions are deeply embedded in the campus culture and mission. We also hypothesize that this ethos and tradition is more likely to occur at places that focus on undergraduate education. Certainly, there are many graduate and professional programs that are structured around strong and close student-student and student-faculty interactions. However, if the primary end of these interactions is to develop

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