School change: does the “classic liberal arts education” still serve a purpose?

by Steve Wyckoff on October 11, 2010

Last week at the the Kansas Education Commission meeting one of the participants commented about “the classic liberal arts education” as if it were given how important, and appropriate, the classic liberal arts education is. As I’ve written before, the most difficult thing to do in school change is to decide what not to do any longer.

I think that it’s time to take a critical look at the “classic liberal arts education” and make some tough decisions about the assumptions we have made for over 100 years, and decide what parts of that education should be abandoned. I know that opinion will rankle more than a few feathers, especially among higher education people, and those who teach in the K-12 core curriculum.

But with the ever changing face of our society it’s imperative that we begin to abandon the least worthy pieces of our traditional education system. I make light of the fact that we seem to think there’s nothing more important than reading the works of dead white European male authors. While I may say it lightheartedly, I am dead serious with my question. What is so important about dead white European male authors that they must be studied by every student.

Not only do I believe that much of what we teach in the classic liberal arts education is no longer appropriate, but I believe it’s the part of our curriculum that students find most boring and irrelevant. At the very least we have to figure out how to make our core curriculum relevant and interesting to our students. In the best possible world we should figure out what to do instead of much of what we do in our core curriculum.

I know this will be hard to swallow for many educators, but at some point we have to begin to abandon something, and somebody’s sacred cow is going to get gored. When we talk about school change we mean exactly that, change! You can’t keep doing everything you’ve always done and pretend that you’re changing. – Steve Wyckoff

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