I'm pleased to say ... I proved it. Here's my writing sample essay -- and my apologies to my blog readers for going over the same "agh! my unaccredited degree is making me spit nails" recurring theme again. (going over ... the same ... recurring ... again ...grrr!)
January 31, 2009
IN PURSUIT OF A LIBERAL EDUCATION
In 1983, I graduated from
In the twenty-five years since then, everything about my life has called to me to go further, dig deeper, and spread wider. The great expanse of human history and experience has always seemed just outside my view. Little by little, through a strong marriage with a liberally educated and intelligent man, through the rearing of our children and our educating them at home, and through the reading of libraries full of books, watching film of all genres from all cultures, and hearing more music, viewing more artwork, and having conversations with a wider and wider variety of people, I have been getting closer to my own entry into the great conversation of humankind. I am now ready for my own formalized, accredited, acknowledged degree in the Liberal Arts.
Getting to this place in my life has been a deliberate and conscious journey. Because the man I married had so much more formal education and so much wider an experience of the world than I brought into the marriage with me, and because we took on the task of educating our own children at home, the nature of education itself has been an ongoing topic of conversation in this house. I have been hammering out my own answers to the question, what is education when it is the best it can be? Without a full answer to where this train of thought might be headed, I decided to take on the job of getting my own children ready to encounter as much of the world as they might someday wish to. I began the process of their liberal educations before I could say that I had defined or earned my own.
It is true that many homeschoolers keep their children at home because of fear. These mothers and fathers evidently wish that they too could hide from society and make a kind of house-sized utopia, and so they set about doing the next best thing. They make one for their children. Its confines are narrow, its rules are rigid, and its curriculum is very carefully monitored. These are the homeschoolers who do not allow books into their homes unless the parents have read them first and approved of them. The naughty bits of famous artwork are covered with paper or colored over with pen, and all music must meet the utopian idea the parents are trying to produce in their homes.
Escape from the wider world was not our notion. Instead, we decided that we would ground our children in the kind of childhood that is steeped in long hours of imaginative invention and well versed in the delights of a good story as authors like A.A. Milne and E. Nesbit knew how to make it. We wanted them to have personal experiences with the natural world and enough freedom to experiment indoors and out. We deliberately trained and nurtured their ability to pay attention, follow an argument, see other people as people instead of reacting to them as functionaries of a system or representatives from various groups or subcultures, and we encouraged our children to practice the noble arts of self-control and humility in the face of large ideas. We wanted them to be able to see and to solve problems. In short, we wanted to introduce them to the rest of the world and get them ready for their own relationships with it.
Personal experience of my own college education had taught me that a narrow education is too small to be of much use in the wider world. On the other hand, observation and conversations with my husband taught me the many values of a liberal education. Teaching my own children then gave me some answers to my questions about education in general, and a liberal college education in particular. What I have learned through my own life’s experience has verified the ideas in the William Cronon essay, “Qualities of the Liberally Educated Person.” (Association of
In his essay, Cronon asserts that the qualities of liberally educated persons are these: (1) They know how to listen and hear; (2) They read and they understand; (3) They can talk with anyone; (4) They can write clearly and persuasively and movingly; (5) They can solve a wide variety of puzzles and problems; (6) Educated people respect rigor, not so much for its own sake, but as a way of seeking truth; (7) They practice respect and humility, tolerance, and self-criticism; (8) They understand how to get things done in the world; (9) They nurture and empower the people around them; (10) They follow E.M. Forster’s injunction: “Only connect.”
Cronon’s idea is that all of the various qualities of a liberally educated person culminate in and are demonstrated by Forster’s motto. Connection to the world is, to his mind, both motivation and reward, means and end. This idea was worked out on a daily basis during our years of homeschooling. It turned out to be enough that we kept one eye on the wider world while the smaller people in the family grew into adults. It was enough to grant those people their own introductions and then allow them to form their own relationships. Without having the specific goal of higher education in mind during those early years, we made an atmosphere of confidence and curiosity that did finally spur all three of our adult offspring to pursue college educations of their own.
But I still had the remains of my earlier questions, if not for my children, then for myself. I still wanted to know if a genuine liberal education be acquired outside the world of academia. If it could, I wondered if I had done it by means of providing education for my own children. And if I had done it, then why did a nagging idea of returning to school for my own degree persist?
I grew up after the modern feminists had fought fierce battles, and I grew up on the West Coast of the
The 1977 speech by Adrienne Rich, delivered at the convocation of
Adrienne Rich was born in 1929. (Poets.org, the website of the
The angry conversations women were having in the 1970’s happened while I was turning into a woman myself, and I rejected their anger. It did not seem to apply to me or to my situation. However, I am older and wiser now. I have realized how much I inherited from those women, and I have raised a fierce and energetic daughter I know would have had a far different life if she had grown up either in Rich’s day or in my own. Rich and her peers paved the way so that my daughter’s generation does not need to be told, at least not as much as I do, that “responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.” (Rich) This is another thing I taught my kids before I knew that I had learned it myself. My daughter does not hold herself in contempt, belittle herself, or assume that her education will be something she might receive unless she herself claims it.
In 1983, I graduated from an unaccredited institution, where I had received an education carefully structured to be of use within a very limited world. I then married a man who brought to me the conversation of history, philosophy, literature, and film, and I was eager to join in. I was determined to make such an education possible for my children, and with an eye to their futures, I prepared them to take part in as much of the wide world as they might decide to claim for themselves. Now, twenty-five years later, I am finally ready to claim my own education. My degree this time will be accredited, in the Liberal Arts tradition of participation in the wider world of Arts and Ideas. What I propose to do now, in pursuit of a Liberal Arts degree is to live an answer to William Cronon’s call. “Only connect. It’s the core project. Without it, all else fails.” I might add that with it, all things are possible.
“Adrienne Rich.” Poets.org. January 30, 2008. <http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/49>
Cronon, William. “Qualities of the Liberally Educated Person.” Learning for Our Common Health: How an Academic Focus on HIV/AIDS Will Improve Education and Health, Ed. Wm. David Burns.
Rich, Adrienne. 1977. Speech delivered at the convocation of