A New Paradigm for a Liberal Arts Education? by Randall Smith

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Laborare est Orare 1862 John Rogers Herbert 1810-1890 Purchased 1971 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T01455

By Randall Smith, The Catholic Thing, Jan. 22, 2020

Randall B. Smith is the Scanlan Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. His most recent book, Reading the Sermons of Thomas Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide, is now available at Amazon and from Emmaus Academic Press.


Randall SmithA friend once suggested that most contemporary students are so far removed from Nature that they would have to be reintroduced to it before they could even begin to understand the classic teaching about the natural law and the virtues.

As some readers may know, Wyoming Catholic College’s way of dealing with this challenge is to require horseback riding.  Riding a horse is not a “virtual skill” that you can “fudge.”  Horses have their own minds, and riding them takes both skill and sensitivity to the needs and dispositions of that horse on that day.  Riding a horse is not like moving numbers around on a spreadsheet, making it just the sort of thing students should learn to do.

Now, perhaps not everyone can or should learn to ride a horse, if for no other reason than we wouldn’t want to torture our poor horses with many incompetent riders.  Horses also require a lot of care and space to run around in, and not every college has the resources.  But how about learning other skills in which excellence requires ingenuity and attention to the realities of the world, not merely the desires of the will?

Here’s my radical proposal.  Every student should learn a skill with a master craftsman.  It could be such skills as plumber, electrician, bricklayer, farmer, auto mechanic, carpenter, furniture maker, or any number of others.  The primary goal would be to introduce the students to a practice requiring discipline and excellence, where the results are concrete and obvious.

If you don’t wire the light correctly, it won’t go on.  If you don’t lay the bricks properly, the wall falls down.  If you don’t plumb the pipes properly, they leak.  There is little room for “creative individualism” and “self-centered willfulness” when one is being apprenticed to such crafts.  If you don’t do it “right,” it fails.

Read more here  https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2020/01/22/a-new-paradigm-for-a-liberal-arts-education/