Robert Cole's Theory Of Liberal Education

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In this short essay, Robert Coles (1995) reveals his pivotal encounter with a student whose personal story of discrimination and unwanted propositions from fellow classmates challenged his perspective on both his current teaching methods and Harvard’s educational mission. Seated in a liberal educational philosophy, he acknowledged he did little to address the importance of connecting thinking to action in his own practice. Starting the essay with a prophetic warning from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Coles (1995) foreshadows his point that although a liberal educational philosophy may nurture intellect, it does little to foster character development when the link between knowledge and action is ignored. Moreover, through the philosophy student’s observance…show more content…
However, critics maintain liberal education merely prepares for life after graduation (Lindeman, 1961/1995). To counter this deficiency, Lindeman (1961/1995) declares true learning requires a deeper reflection on meaning and purpose and the inclusion of the adult student’s experience to realize higher levels of knowledge. Without exercising this essential component, critics such as Dewey contend traditional learning is passive and uniform (Elias & Merriam, 2005). Even Mortimer Adler, a proponent of liberal education, argues liberal education must develop intellect through coaching, practice, and discussion (Elias & Merriam, 2005). What appears to be missing in Coles’, and in his viewpoint, the general mindset of liberal universities, is both Lindeman’s and Adler’s proposal to move information into…show more content…
The student retorts, “we talk about what’s true, what’s important, what’s good. Well, how do you teach people to be good?” (p. 2). She also wonders whether Emerson would have “any ideas about what to do about what was worrying him-or did he think he’d done enough because he’s spelled the problem out to the Harvard professors?” (p. 2). When activities that promote both practical wisdom and connect information to application are missing, liberal education only makes the assumption students know how to bridge the disparity between thinking and doing. It does little to nurture its
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