What is a liberal education? It is easy to say what it is not. It is not specialized education, not vocational, avocational, professional or preprofessional. It is not an education that teaches a man to do any specific thing.Fast forward 50 years or so:
I am tempted to say that it is the education that no American gets in an educational institution nowadays. We are all specialists now. Even early in high school we are told that we must begin to think how we are going to earn a living, and the prerequisites that are supposed to prepare us for that activity become more and more the ingredients of our educational diet. I am afraid we shall have to admit that the educational process in America is either a rather pleasant way of passing the time until we are ready to go to work, or a way of getting ready for some occupation, or a combination of the two. What is missing is education to be human beings, education to make the most of our human powers, education for our responsibilities as members of a democratic society, education for freedom.
This is what liberal education is. It is the education that prepares us to be free men. You have to have this education if you are going to be happy; for happiness consists in making the most of yourself. You have to have this education if you are going to be a member of the community; for membership in the community implies the ability to communicate with others. You have to have this education if you are going to be an effective citizen of a democracy; for citizenship requires that you understand the world in which you live and that you do not leave your duties to be performed by others, living vicariously and vacuously on their virtue and intelligence. A free society is a society composed of free men. To be free you have to be educated for freedom. This means that you have to think; for the free man is one who thinks for himself. It means that you have to think, for example, about the aims of life and of organized society.
And what are we doing in Australia at the moment? Reforming higher education, introducing compulsory testing in schools around the country, assembling expert panels to review schools funding - read the press releases - there's very little about education per se - it's all training, economics, countless committees and interest groups.
I'm quite fond of La Gillardine, especially after Heffernan gave her a hard time for being "deliberately barren". She's easily the smartest crayon in the (very clever) Labor box but I can't help feeling glum nonetheless. Mabye I'll be able to tell you why once I've done the 1959 DIY course.