Why the Liberal Arts, Why Monticello, and Why the Outdoors?webdev
Contributing author Joelle Mancuso of Simi Valley, CA 9/2/10
Imagine a liberal arts education as you would a physical training program. The program you use, the tools that are engaged and the environment you utilize will determine if you become fit or remain idle.
A college that is dedicated to greatness, a curriculum that engages with the greatest minds of western civilization, and an environment that inspires the soul is the surest way to ultimate fitness.
A mind that is not asked to work is very much like a body that is slow to stand up and eager to lay down. Changing a slothful intellect is very much like this and requires the commitment of the right action plan. The liberal arts furnishes this type of excellent program.
Just like beginning any new routine, at first, it is difficult and ideas are too complex to grasp but as you begin engaging regularly, the habits of attention, concentration and your ability to make connections become easier.
A lap around the block with Plato may leave you out of breath, but the next day Socrates only leaves you mildly fatigued. The next week you slip into Shakespeare with ease and lunge ahead with Locke and Montaigne.
By the end of the month you have several ‘exercise’ sessions under your belt and what was arduous at first is now energizing and familiar. Each successive workout session is suddenly performed faster and more easily.
According to Robert Hutchins:
The aim of liberal education is human excellence, both private and public (for man is a political animal). Its object is the excellence of man as man and man as citizen. It regards man as an end, not as a means; and it regards the ends of life, and not the means to it.
For this reason it is the education of free men. Other types of education or training treat men as means to some other end, or are at best concerned with the means of life, with earning a living, and not with its ends.
The substance of liberal education appears to consist in the recognition of basic problems, in knowledge of distinctions and interrelations in subject matter, and in the comprehension of ideas.
Liberal education seeks to clarify the basic problems and to understand the way in which one problem bears upon another. It strives for a grasp of the methods by which solutions can be reached and the formulation of standards for testing solutions proposed.
The liberally educated man understands, for example, the relation between the problem of the immortality of the soul and the problem of the best form of government; he understands that the one problem cannot be solved by the same method as the other, and that the test that he will have to bring to bear upon solutions proposed differs from one problem to the other.
The method of liberal education is the liberal arts, and the result of liberal education is discipline in those arts. The liberal artist learns to read, write, speak, listen, understand, and think.
He learns to reckon, measure, and manipulate matter, quantity, and motion in order to predict, produce, and exchange. As we live in the tradition, whether we know it or not, so we are all liberal artists, whether we know it or not.
We all practice the liberal arts, well or badly, all the time every day. As we should understand the tradition as well as we can in order to understand ourselves, so we should be as good liberal artists as we can in order to become as fully human as we can.
The liberal arts are not merely indispensable; they are unavoidable. Nobody can decide for himself whether he is going to be a human being. The only question open to him is whether he will be an ignorant, undeveloped one or one who has sought to reach the highest point he is capable of attaining.
The question, in short, is whether he will be a poor liberal artist or a good one.
Excerpt taken from Robert Hutchins, The Great Conversation: The Substance of a Liberal Education (Chicago: William Benton in association with Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. 1952) 3-5.
A liberal arts education allows you to see life as a whole instead of separate pieces. A well-rounded education, a study of the whole range of knowledge, produces an intellectual landscape that allows you to see far and wide. Allow me to use an analogy of exercise once again. In order to be the most physically fit, one must engage all of his/her muscles in a multitude of exercises.
If an athlete only trains for one sport, they will be useless in most others. Can you image Michael Phelps running the 40-yard dash or Serena Williams ice-skating? Maybe you can because you assume that these incredibly fit individuals would be able to perform well in all sports? The truth-be-told, most athletes cannot excel outside the sport in which they have trained.
This idea of training for one sport is called Exercise Specificity. The Specificity Principle simply states that exercising a certain body part or component of the body primarily develops that part. This Principle implies that, to become better at a particular exercise or skill, you must perform that exercise or skill.
A runner should train by running, a swimmer by swimming and a cyclist by cycling. You may get a gold medal or a trophy for performing well in your specified sport but at what negative ‘cost’ to the overall health of your body? Training for one sport is limiting and can produce all sorts of overuse injury.
If you take a look at Olympic gymnasts (or even your neighborhood kids taking gymnastics) you will notice all various wraps around injured muscles and joints.
The alternative to Exercise Specificity are the Principles of Cross Training. The term Cross Training refers to a training routine that involves several different forms of exercise. Cross Training is a beneficial training method for maintaining a high level of overall fitness.
The benefits of cross training include flexibility, higher levels of all-around conditioning, reduction of injuries, stamina, improved skill, agility and balance.
Cross Training also allows for adaptability to situations; if the pool is closed you can go for a hike. Exploring and become proficient at many sports trains the body to be supple, diverse, and balanced.
Liberal arts are to education what Cross Training is to fitness. Liberal arts allow us to exercise the mind in many areas of knowledge and mental creation. This type of intellectual development enlightens us to choose form over function or function over form, depending on the application.
It gives us perspective to determine when to whole-heartedly adopt the newest technology and when hold back and stay grounded in the old tried-and-true methods.
It helps us to develop insight to put relationships before things or possessions. It gives us a keen appreciate for what is truly worth working for, and sometimes fighting to protect. It helps us quench our thirst and stay balanced in the pursuit of happiness.
Just as Cross Training allows for the achievement of overall health, Liberal Arts creates a stable, flexible, strong mind that is ready to engage with vigor and wisdom in any situation.
Why Monticello and the Outdoors? That question has an easy answer. When I studied child development I learned, early on, that the body must perform a task physically before the brain can follow.
So in keeping with this concept, we must experience life in a physical way to make connections with our mental abilities.
Additionally, how one interacts within an outdoor situation/challenge is directly related to how one is capable/incapable of handling the rigors of mental engagement/life. Nothing is more ‘telling’ of one’s agility and stamina indoors as an arduous activity outdoors with nature.
Monticello is the perfect environment for physical challenge. I recently spent four days in Monticello. I photographed 1,500 pictures and can’t believe how many different environments this area has to offer a body and mind that is looking for excellence.
The students privileged enough to attend this college will experience desert, forest, plains, wetlands and mountain areas. Their bodies will be strengthened and empowered as they conquer strenuous, rocky trails and humbled as they face the daunting peaks of the Blue Mountains. It’s an easy equation: Physical Strength + Mental Strength = Greatness.
Liberal Arts, Monticello and the Blue Mountains are the perfect combination for getting an education that provides all of the tools one needs for success in an uncertain future.
Visiting Monticello is not merely desirable, but necessary.