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ERIC Number: EJ1095211
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2014
Pages: N/A
Abstractor: ERIC
ISSN: ISSN-0024-1822
The Search for American Liberal Education: Liberal Education and the American Context
Wong, Frank F.
Liberal Education, v100 n4 Fall 2014
When Charles William Eliot launched his radical reforms at Harvard in the late 1870s, he was convinced that the fixed curriculum, based on English liberal education models, was ill suited to the democratic spirit, the cultural diversity, and the rapidly changing circumstances in America. Seventy years later, in a post-World War II climate of concern about the "unifying purpose and idea" for American education, Harvard issued a new version of liberal education in its famous Redbook. To address the new American circumstances, these reforms reduced rather than increased choices for students. These benchmarks of American higher education notwithstanding, the final chapter of a widely respected study by Bruce Kimball, published in 1986, opens with the observation that there is no "distinctively American view of liberal education." This article asks why, after such high-profile efforts as those made at Harvard, is there no clear model of American liberal education? If there is no such model, why do we need to develop one, especially in the context of the dramatic changes affecting American society today. By introducing the free elective system, Eliot hoped to develop in students the habits of self-reliance that he regarded as essential to the American democratic system. In this article Frank Wong argues that although efforts to reform liberal education in America have frequently been concerned with adapting to the country's changing circumstances, they have not been equally concerned with developing a more appropriate model to engage these changing circumstances. Analysis suggests that as we approach the twenty-first century, the traditional liberal education model, which has its origins in Anglo-European culture, needs to be replaced by an American liberal education model that has its origins in American culture and experience. While this model need not discard all aspects of the traditional model, Wong argues that it should be more democratic, more multicultural, and more responsive to the needs of American society. At the same time, it should take the universal aspirations and the integrating vision of the traditional model and reinterpret them in the context of the cultural and academic pluralisms that constitute major influences in the country and the academy today. Wong ventures to believe that s as a part of this search for an American liberal education, we might profitably explore a new model that accepts and affirms the cultural and academic diversity presently found in our colleges and universities. At the same time, this model would apply the priority of integration by promoting conversation and creative development at the intersections of the now-divided sectors of academic departments, general and specialized education, academic life and student life, and college and community. Wong considers the idea that at the end of this search, we may find a truly new American college that reflects an American model of liberal education and this innovation could, in turn, provide a renewed sense of academic community thereby enriching service to American society.
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A