Liberal education as a concept began with the ancient Greeks and Romans to mean the kind of education of the liberi, of men who are free from having to work for a living, i.e. the gentry of the nobility. Thus, it meant an education for the nobility and as such has no direct bearing on the professions but centers on the development of the mind.
During the Middle Ages, liberal education developed based on the liberal arts consisting of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy). Under the auspices of the Catholic Church which dominated the Middle Ages of Europe, this education was intended to bring about the improvement of discipline or the free development of the mind or spirit.
The Essence of Liberal Education
Being an education originally intended for the nobility who are free from the concerns of having to work for a living, liberal education from the start has the spirit of freedom from restraint, broadmindedness, unbound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional and established forms of action, attitude or opinion. Its aim is the production, not of a professional or skilled worker but of a fully developed human person whose world view is not tied down to what he does. It also includes what a human person could be and should be.
Today, liberal education finds expression in the general education subjects that all college students have to take in order to graduate. The aim remains the same, to make the graduates good persons, not just good professionals.
The Progress of Liberal Education
The development of liberal education finds its full expression in philosophy whose history in the west can be divided into ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary periods.
The spirit of ancient philosophy was a spirit of wonder. Greek thinkers began to wonder about the world around them and began to ask questions which more often than not, challenged established forms of beliefs, attitudes, and actions. Such questioning led to doubting of the existence of gods and goddesses. It was for this that Socrates was condemned to death by the Athenian justice system. His crime was corrupting the youth because they had begun to veer away from worshipping the Greek gods and goddesses.
Medieval philosophy came to grips with theology which was compendium of beliefs espoused by the Catholic Church, beliefs which somehow had become complicated and needed philosophy to explain them. Philosophy became the handmaid of theology. The Middle Ages was the period in Europe when Christianity Absorbed into its teachings philosophical concepts and pagan ideas which transformed it into the Catholic Church which is very different from the Biblical Christianity. It has become another gospel the one prophesied by Apostle Paul in II Corinthians ll:3-4.
The modern period saw coming to grips with science. Philosophy is mainly speculative activity whose findings and conclusions remain speculative while science derived its conclusions from actual observation and experimentation. As
a result, many philosophical theories were proven false by science. However, science cannot go beyond what it actually discovers and conclusions still need
philosophical interpretations. Common to philosophy and science is the antagonistic stance against religious beliefs.
The contemporary period saw philosophy coming to grips with the ascendan-cy of the person whose multiple philosophy aspects give rise to the idea that man
himself is the creator of his personality. Thus, speculation gave rise to the idea that man can become anything he wants to be. By himself, he can attain perfection, immortality, can rise to the state of “beyond good and evil”, can become God. An American poet wrote “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”.
The Spirit of Liberal Education
Being the education of the free, particularly of the free mind, liberal education essentially gives free rein to what the mind can speculate and conceive. It aims to free the spirit from any restraint, be it traditional ways of thinking and doing things, religious and authoritarian constraints, or simply limitations imposed by the material component of man. Eastern philosophies mostly see matter as a prison of the soul or the spirit from which it must strive to be free.
In all of these speculations, God is essentially left out of the picture at worst or taken for granted and then ignored at best. Modern liberal education concretized in the general education subjects aims simply to make a better person by his own self. He is taught theories and ideas about personality, about man’s origins, possibilities, destiny, about becoming a complete person and he is given the absolute freedom to accept or reject any of them. Again, God is left out.
The Christian Perspective
Although man can speculate and his mind can think of limitless possibilities for himself, the fulfillment of such possibilities is totally beyond his control. In fact, he has no control over his own existence, his own body, his own life. He owns nothing – all the things he acquires are acquired by his using of materials not his own. He came into this world with nothing: he will leave it with nothing. He does not know where he comes from; he does not know where he is going. He does not know what will happen to him; he does not know when he will die.
The Christian perspective, the Biblical one, puts a rein on this human drive that liberal education gives to man. This perspective makes man realize his own limitations, helplessness, and total dependence on God Who created him for a purpose.
Thus, the Biblical injunction is that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” (Prov. 9:10 KJV). Reliance on human wisdom is fatal. Says the prophet Isaiah: “Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (Isa. 5:21 KJV).
Thus, the Christian perspective commands that the wise man should know God’s will. Apostle Paul said that “wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” (Eph. 5:17 KJV).
Liberal education should therefore be tempered with God’s words in the Bible. After all, it is God who created all things, thus, it is God who knows the answers to all questions. He has commands that must be followed totally and unconditionally. The liberally educated man should realize that it is only God who can answer correctly all of his questions. Thus, he should seek answers from God’s words as written in the Bible and anything that contradicts the Bible should be rejected.
General education subjects are taught in the New Era University but there is always that caveat on anything that contradicts the Bible. For example, the theory of evolution is taught but there is that rejoinder that such theory does not coincide with God’s words in the Bible. Religions are taught but with the warning that the only true religion is that which the Bible speaks about. Freedom is taught but with the advice that true freedom is that which is reined by God’s commands. True freedom is freedom from the law of sin and death and this is found only in the complete knowledge and obedience of God’s commands.
Hakim, Albert, Historical Introduction to Philosophy. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1987.
Kagan, Donald et.al., The Western Heritage, Vol. I, to 1715, Second Edition, New York: Macmillan Company, Inc., 1983.
_________________., The Western Heritage, Vol. I, to 1715, Second Edition, New York: Macmillan Company, Inc., 1983.
Perry, Marvin et.al., Western Civilization Ideas, Politics, and Society. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1989.