What is Liberal Education?

The American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE) welcomes readers to its on-line resource, What is Liberal Education?, a collection of essays and commentaries on topics of interest pertaining to the value and practice of liberal education and addressing the question: What is liberal education?

Current Topic: Liberal Education and the K-12 Curriculum

Jacques Barzun. “Why We Educate the Way We Do” 

Jacques Barzun (1907-2012), one of the founders of the American Academy for Liberal Education, is recognized internationally as one of the most thoughtful commentators on the cultural history of the modern period. After receiving his PhD from Columbia University (NY) in 1932, Barzun was appointed to the history faculty. During his tenure at Columbia, he served as Dean of Faculties and as Provost. He was granted the title of University Professor in 1967.

Barzun is the author of over 30 books and countless essays on historical, cultural and educational topics.  Among his writings are Critical Questions (a collection of essays 1940-1980), The Use and Abuse of Art (1974), and From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Life. 1500 to the Present (2000). The American Scholar called From Dawn to Decadence a “masterwork” by a “man whose entire life has been spent acquiring the perspective that only wisdom, and not mere knowledge, can grant.” His works on education include Teacher in America (1945) and The American University:  How it Runs and Where it is Going (new ed. 1993). Barzun’s professional activities included membership in the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal Society of Arts. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003. 

Jacquez Barzun was interviewed by Ruth Wattenburg of the American Educator in 2002 on the subjects that form a K-12 education. The interview is reproduced here with permission from the Fall 2002 issue of American Educator, the quarterly journal of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, under its original title: Why We Educate the Way We Do.