This story appears in the June 2023 edition of The GēDUNK, Grove City College’s alumni magazine.
From its earliest days as a preparatory school to its evolution into the College we know today, the study of the humanities –English, history, philosophy, religion, economics, sociology, psychology, languages, music, and fine arts – has been at the core of hundreds of degrees earned.
The liberal arts are the academic bedrock of Grove City College.
When the school was founded nearly 150 years ago, in addition to bookkeeping and teacher training courses, the first classes had to master Latin and Greek, English, history, political geography, mathematics, and physical science. The humanities-heavy course load was complemented by a religious regimen that included regular scripture reading, Bible study, hymn-singing, and prayer. The program was designed to ready students not just for work in offices and schools or further study, but to give them the intellectual, moral, and spiritual tools they would need to engage with a world that, then as now, is always changing.
It was not a new idea, but an ancient one that has served Western civilization well for centuries. From the Greeks to the Romans to the Renaissance to the Enlightenment to the present day, the liberal arts are the basis of higher education – and a keystone of free societies. Along with faith, they are the foundation of wisdom, essential to understanding what it means to be human, and how to recognize what is good, true, and beautiful, and serve it best. They are, in essence, the liberating arts.
THE LIBERATING ARTS
“Throughout history this kind of education — focused on the great books of literature, history, philosophy, and theology; the great works of music and art; and exploration in science and mathematics — has been a way to liberate people. It has been a way to equip free people to strengthen democracy and promote freedom as wise advocates for liberty, justice, and virtue. Over the last millennium, these liberating arts have provided freedom to those who would otherwise have remained uneducated, unequipped, and unskilled,” Grove City College Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Peter Frank ’95 wrote in his essay Learning for Freedom’s Sake.
In it, Frank makes the case that the liberal arts, studied with a commitment to Christian belief in concert with others, as it is at the College, provides a guide for the student’s journey and the responsible exercise of freedom. “The Christian liberal arts provide a framework to help students attain the wisdom necessary to use their education for purposes that help build a more just and virtuous society,” Frank argues, and “develop a sharper lens to view the world and guide their actions within it.”
These benefits are, inarguably, much needed in a broken world, but a harder sell as the high cost of a college education requires young people to make calculations and balance their passions and intellectual appetites against future earnings to pay off the debt they will most likely accrue – even at Grove City College.
OH, THE HUMANITIES
There are fewer liberal arts majors than there were 50 or 20 years ago, nationally and at Grove City College. In 2020, just 11 percent of American college graduates – a little more than 161,000 students – studied the humanities. Almost 70 percent of this year’s Grove City graduates earned Bachelor of Science degrees. And it is not hard to understand why.
For most Grovers, securing gainful employment after graduation is a key concern. Professional degree programs, like accounting, education, and nursing, provide tickets to first jobs and advancement. STEM disciplines offer early entrée to senior jobs in industry, health care, and other in-demand fields. The barista with a B.A. struggling to pay off loans is a hard stereotype to break, even as statistics tell us that liberal arts majors do well across all industries and are uniquely able to adapt to disruptive economic and cultural forces.
While the economic value of a liberal arts education can be hard to pin down, the value of these areas of study to human flourishing are immeasurable. That’s a key reason why, more than 50 years ago, Grove City College began developing what is now known as the Humanities Core, a series of courses covering civilization, history, philosophy, literature, and the arts through the lens of scripture that provide students an understanding of the world and their place in it.
The idea was in some ways a product of its times and, in other ways, ahead of its time. It was a response to trends in higher education away from the Western canon and eternal truths and toward subjective, critical relativism and a recognition that, as society and culture followed the academy, the College had a duty to intentionally cultivate in its students an appreciation of civilization’s great ideas, events, art, and culture within a Christian worldview.
As they have developed over the years, the HUMA classes provide a rigorous introduction to the liberating arts that cultivates empathy, sharpens critical thinking, writing, and communication skills, and grants students an enriched perspective on the good life and a deeper desire to know God.
The College has always provided professional education in a variety of disciplines, producing generations of ministers, teachers, engineers, chemists, accountants, computer scientists, physicists, and managers. The curriculum has shifted over 146 years to meet student needs and the market’s demands, from telegraphy in the 1890s to commercial science in the 1920s to Applied Science in the 2020s. Equipping students with the knowledge and the skills they need to succeed has always been a priority, but one balanced by the College’s mission to foster faith and develop wisdom. The liberal arts provide that balance.
In his essay, Frank writes: “We talk a lot at Grove City College about imparting what is good, true, and beautiful to our students. These transcendental concepts are what shape us as people, not just as workers … The liberating arts are full of these good, true, and beautiful elements: from momentous historical events to perplexing philosophical questions, from stunning literary passages to exhilarating orchestral harmonies, from the complex structure of atoms to the profound truths in the word of God, there is gift after gift for the student to unwrap … Ultimately, because our entire curriculum centers around Christ revealed to us in the Bible, our hope is that as students see more of Him, they will become more like Him.”
And that is the ultimate value of the academically excellent, affordable, and Christ-centered living and learning experience that Grove City College offers. The insights, collaboration, and connections that the liberating arts inspire are about liberating the soul, College President Paul J. McNulty ’80 said.
“First and foremost, our goal as a Christ-centered community is soul liberation,” McNulty said. “We are constant guardians and caretakers of the soul. Ultimately, a Grove City College education is one that opens the eye to understanding, the eye that allows Gods light to shine on all things.”
Read The GēDUNK online at issuu.com/grovecitycollege