Liberal Education - Meaning and History
The principles guiding liberal education at Miami University represent a consensus that resulted from an extended dialogue on the meaning of a liberal education that took place across the university in the late 1980s and culminated in the implementation of the Miami Plan in 1992. The dialogue commenced with the 1986 publication of series of essays published by faculty members, underscoring values they each saw as keys to a liberal education. This conversation has persisted in various forums ever since, from syllabi that continue to highlight for students the ways critical thinking, understanding context, engaging with other learners, and action and reflection shape curricula, to published articles that continue to appear in campus publications such as The Miami Student, to the various activities the Miami community organizes that encourage us all to develop our personal moral commitment, our ethical understanding, and our sense of the roles we play as global citizens.
This emphasis on global citizenship is reflected strongly in the most current iteration of the lead model for our university’s liberal education curriculum—The Global Miami Plan, which highlights transnational opportunities for students to develop and exercise the ability to communicate and act respectfully across cultural and linguistic differences. As Kevin Hovland (The Association of American Colleges and University’s Director of Global Initiatives and Curricular Change) writes, “Liberal learning and global learning converge when students have multiple opportunities to apply new knowledge to their own developing sense of their place in the world. Such opportunities require that students develop the capacity to analyze issues from multiple perspectives (perspectives that take privilege, power, democratic opportunity, and patterned stratification into account), recognize the value of ethical and moral reflection, and apply knowledge and values to real-world problems.” In short, liberal education positions students as critical and creative participants in all aspects of their academic, professional, social, and political lives; and it helps students develop a strong sense of the ways their participation can affect their lives and the lives of those around them.
Echoing the principles that Miami University agreed upon over 20 years ago as central to learning, the Board of Directors of the Association of American Colleges & Universities holds that “A truly liberal education is one that prepares us to live responsible, productive, and creative lives in a dramatically changing world. It is an education that fosters a well-grounded intellectual resilience, a disposition toward lifelong learning, and an acceptance of responsibility for the ethical consequences of our ideas and actions. Liberal education requires that we understand the foundations of knowledge and inquiry about nature, culture and society; that we master core skills of perception, analysis, and expression; that we cultivate a respect for truth; that we recognize the importance of historical and cultural context; and that we explore connections among formal learning, citizenship, and service to our communities.”