Liberal education, why would anyone want to do that? Those of us who are proponents of classical liberal education have an uphill battle to fight. Even the phrase “liberal education” would seemingly have to be abandoned simply because of the potential for confusing it with other types of liberalism. That is why I often reluctantly choose the phrase “classical education” to describe the education we offer at The Lyceum.
In one of those odd ironies of the English language, Liberal education is hardly an education for liberals. Liberal education concerns itself almost entirely with reading the works of authors long dead in an attempt to preserve, or rather conserve, all that is best in literature and music and art. Liberal education is about reading and discussing the canon of authors to whom Western Civilization owes its origins. It is about immersing oneself in the very sources of civilization holding fast to its elements and principles, to time honored truths and traditions; to the vision of all those who contributed to civilization.
Of course, there may be those who read Homer, Aristotle, Aquinas and Shakespeare for other purposes than to learn to think like these men. But true liberal education enables students to grasp and assimilate the thoughts of the greatest thinkers in an attempt to understand the world. We would be happy if our students could do nothing more than understand the great thinkers at all. Perhaps some might see a bit further standing, as it were, on the shoulders of such giants.
The end of liberal education is not first “to think for oneself,” but to know the truth. To know the truth that makes one free, this is the end of liberal education. Liber and libertas, in Latin, denote freedom, as opposed to servility and the servile. Liberal education is the education appropriate to free men and is a source of that freedom. Liberal education, this encounter with and conformity to the truth, frees man from enslavement to unruly passions, ignorance, current intellectual trends and public opinion. Once freed from these bonds, a man may choose to live a good life, hold to the truth, and delight in beauty – not to please others or gain some practical reward, but simply because these things are good, or true, or beautiful. Once freed, a man might even choose to serve others, as Christ did. “And you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free.”
Why do we want a liberal education for our children? Why, simply to make them free.