Freedom With Purpose

A Liberal Arts Education at Roanoke College


Education in the Liberal Arts is education for liberation. The term “liberal arts” derives from the Latin artes liberales and means, literally, the subjects of study appropriate to free per- sons. And the verb “to educate” means, in its Latin root, “to lead.” A liberal arts education, then, is one that leads out from small worlds into larger ones.

It leads us out from small, safe worlds into larger, more interesting ones by training in us dissatisfaction with partial knowl- edge, with sloganeering, and with fixed ideologies. It instills in us instead an appreciation for the true complexity of things and a lifelong commitment to learning. A mind so trained respects facts, employs apt methods, and engages in creative problem solving. It examines alternatives; it does not fear ten- sion or paradox. It welcomes the stubborn “misfit” fact that cracks open a too-small view and releases us into a wider play of thought. And it encounters this liberating openness in the vision of artists; in the venturesome thought of philosophers, theologians, and mathematicians; in the observation and experimentation of scientists; in the insights of social scientists; and in the experience of living in community.

A liberal arts education at a small, residential college frees us from isolation within ourselves into a community of learners and sharers, a community of discovery and collaboration, in which we can grow as individuals in constructive engagement with others.

A liberal arts education frees us from reliance upon received opinion into an achieved personal authority by training the skills of critical thought, sound research, and informed and reasoned debate. At Roanoke College this freedom grows out of a tradition of debating societies within a community of open discourse.

A liberal arts education frees us from entrapment within the conventions of our present place and time into a wider perspective that comprehends our own legacies, the breadth of human history, and the variety of human cultures. To support this work, Roanoke College commits itself to the work of building a diverse and tolerant college community.

A liberal arts education frees us from superficiality and distraction into the satisfactions of knowledge in depth, in which depth of learning leads to useful understanding—and to pleasure, wonder, and awe. At the same time, a liberal education frees us from mere specialization into a wider dialogue, in which depth of knowledge is shared and debated to clarify distinctions, to discover patterns, and to integrate human knowledge into an ever larger and more adequate view.

A liberal arts education engages ethics and questions of ultimate meaning. It does not offer pat moral answers. Instead, it provides the basis of all moral behavior—it helps us to imagine the reality of other lives. In matters of ethical living, it does not limit itself to the human, social world, but includes thoughtful consideration of our place within the natural world. At Roanoke College these inquiries are informed, in part, by a tradition of Lutheran education that encourages a dialogue between faith and learning.

Education in the liberal arts frees us from purposelessness into productive careers and lives of service, in which our work to discover what is good, true, and beautiful leads on to work for good in the world.

The effects of a liberal arts education — an education for liberation — are a love of learning, an openness within the vastness of what we do not know, and a desire to use what we do know in ethical living, engaged citizenship, and service for the general good. The broad aim of such an education, therefore, is to produce resourceful, informed, and responsible citizens.