In the middle of the phrase “liberal arts education” is the important word “liberal”. But how are these arts liberal? Some say it is that these arts are liberating; they free men and women who study them. Others say they are the arts suited for an already free person. Colleges describing themselves as liberal arts institutions often use the word merely to distinguish themselves from technical schools.
At the core of the liberal arts is a crucial notion in Christian thought: the freedom of conscience and worship. When Thomas Aquinas explains the meaning of the phrase liberal arts he grounds it in the statement, “man as regards his soul is free.” Josef Pieper echoes this notion saying, “Culture depends for its very existence on leisure, and leisure, in its turn, is not possible unless it has a durable and consequently living link with the cultus, with divine worship.” The term leisure in Greek is schole, the origin of our English word for school.
How do you teach math or read a book so that students experience these as leisure, as schole? What role do discovery and demonstration play in the liberal arts for persuading students of the beauty, truth, and goodness of a poem or pendulum? We will discuss not only the philosophy behind the liberal arts but particular ways this affects pedagogy and content in classrooms ranging from grammar school literature to upper school mathematics.
Ravi Jain graduated from Davidson College with a B.A. and interests in physics, ancient Greek, and international political economy. He worked at various churches, received an M.A. from Reformed Theological Seminary, and later earned a Graduate Certificate in Mathematics from the University of Central Florida. He coauthored “The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education,” now translated into Chinese, and the forthcoming, “A New Natural Philosophy: Natural Science and Christian Pedagogy.” He began teaching Calculus and Physics at the Geneva School in 2003 where he has developed an integrated double period class called “The Scientific Revolution.” In that class students read primary sources like Galileo and Newton in order to recapitulate the narrative of discovery and explore its deeper meanings while preserving the mathematical and scientific rigor expected of a college level treatment. He also teaches AP Calculus BC, in which the students strive to discover and demonstrate the “most beautiful theorem in mathematics,” and AP Physics C where they encounter Faraday, Maxwell, and Einstein. He has given over 150 talks and workshops throughout America, Africa, and China on topics related to education, theology, mathematics, and science. He has served as a deacon in his church and is a founding Alcuin fellow. He enjoys spending time with his two boys, Judah and Xavier and his wife Kelley.