STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 12/05/2013

College in Four Dimensions

Introduction by Stan Gaede

Students in class

Why liberal arts, you ask? I’ll be bold and suggest that a good liberal arts education includes four different dimensions, which we tend to encounter chronologically as we travel through life.

The first is what we might call “education as necessary.” If you don’t get a good education, you certainly won’t make anything of yourself. Don’t disgrace the family. Behave yourself. Do what you’re told. This isn’t particularly inspiring, but it is effective. I suspect many of us start out here. I certainly did.

The second dimension is a refinement of the first: “education as helpful.” Education provides knowledge that will lead to a better life, as well as skills that make us more adept at living with others and accomplishing a host of other objectives.

I discovered the third dimension of education in my junior year of high school, when I read Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, and became a reader for the first time in my life—not because I had to, but because it was utterly fascinating. I quickly discovered that the same acute pleasure and wonder was possible in history, and physics, and music. I call this “education as passion.”

And then there is “education as transformation.” This assumes that one can be improved through education: made more whole, more fully human, more like what the Creator intended. These last two dimensions—the passionate and the transformative—get at what’s especially valuable about the liberal arts: higher-level skills like thinking critically and communicating effectively; the pure joy of learning and the delight of opening up a new universe.

Transformative education asks: what is it that you want someone to become?

At Gordon we’re all about enabling people not only to gain helpful skills, and not only to enjoy fully the world that they’ve been given, but also to flourish. To become better than they had ever imagined they could be. That’s why the liberal arts are at the heart of American education.

We are sometimes called a Christian liberal arts college, though that isn’t my favorite way of putting it. We are, rather, a liberal arts college with the particular frame of a Christian world and life view. The framework enables us to explain not only why one should acquire skills and knowledge, but to what end. Learning is enjoyable because that’s how we were created. Becoming a certain kind of person is good, because it improves one’s own life and the lives of others. Fully exercising one’s gifts is delightful because it delights the Giver.

Our faculty are here not only because they find this framework palatable, but deeply, deeply rewarding. It is something we share with our students—and one another—not out of obligation, but gratitude.

What are we doing here at Gordon? It’s precisely that useful, helpful, passionate, and life-changing experience that I think ought to characterize a liberal arts education. Read on for four of my colleagues’ thoughts about this wonderful enterprise.

Stan D. Gaede, Ph.D., is a sociologist, author, scholar-in-residence at Gordon, current president of the Christian College Consortium, and past president of Westmont College.


Arts, Liberated | Rini Cobbey

The Promise of Religious Liberal Arts Colleges | Thomas A. (Tal) Howard

Rich Soil for New and Noble Ventures | Carter Crockett

Leadership and the Liberal Arts | D. Michael Lindsay