In How to Think: The Liberal Arts and Their Enduring Value, Professor Michael D. C. Drout gives an impassioned defense and celebration of the value of the liberal arts. Charting the evolution of the liberal arts from their roots in the educational system of Ancient Rome through the Middle Ages and to the present day, Drout shows how the liberal arts have consistently been "the tools to rule", essential to the education of the leaders of society. Offering a reasoned defense of their continuing value, Drout also provides suggestions for improving the state of the liberal arts in contemporary society.
©2013 Michael D.C. Drout (P)2013 Crescite Group, LLC
If you've heard any of Drout's other lecture series, or even just read their customer reviews, you know that Drout is one of the best lecturers available on Audible. In my opinion, this series is every bit as good as his others, both in content and presentation. Drout is, as always, engaging, erudite, thought-provoking, and funny. Maybe the subject matter doesn't have as broad an appeal, but if you're actually interested in a discussion, defense, or critique of the liberal arts, this is a good one.
In case it needs to be said, pay attention to the subtitle and the description, not just the title. Here's a description of the eight individual lectures:
Lecture 1: Where the Liberal Arts came from. Lecture 2: How the sciences split off from the liberal arts. Lecture 3: The liberal arts as "the tools to rule." Lecture 4: Can the liberal arts make you a better person? Lecture 5: The best reasons for studying the liberal arts: Solving complex problems, and preserving and transmitting culture. Lecture 6: Case study: Beowulf. Lecture 7: What's wrong with the liberal arts, and how to fix it. Lecture 8: Answering the critics of the liberal arts.
I surmise that this course seemed interesting in preparation, but in the presentation, the material falls flat.
The material is just not compelling. True as it is, this material sounds like it is more suited for a peer conference where humanities grad students can come and get some good talking points for why their disciplines matter. As a general course, it fails to inspire.
The redeeming quality is that even when Drout fails to engage me, he is still very enjoyable--and erudite.
Don't let this negative review keep you from trying any of Drout's other courses, especially Way With Words (the first one), Anglo-Saxon History, and History of English Language. Drout is a really fine teacher and his other courses are very inspiring. He is one of the Modern Scholars' most popular presenters for a reason.
Professor Drout takes up a critical issue- the value of a liberal arts education. He looks at common critiques and does a good job of evaluating both sides of each argument. His most exceptional lecture by a large margin is 'what is wrong with the liberal arts and how to fix it'. It is worth purchasing this lecture series just to listen to this brilliant analysis of how political and social orthodoxy within the liberal arts academy have contributed to making liberal arts scholarship stagnant, if not in some cases moribund.The weakness in Drout's lecture series, however, is that he fails to make a convincing case for the importance of a liberal arts education. He argues that it gives graduates 'the tools to rule' (be good leaders and managers) and the skills to solve or at least wrestle with complex problems, but he fails to really explain how a liberal arts education can lead to these outcomes. His main case study is that of the old English epic poem Beowulf....he demonstrates how a deep understanding of this work requires a rich background in history, language and literary criticism, in addition to well developed research and analysis skills and a multi- disciplinary perspective...all knowledge and skills developed in a liberal arts degree programme. However, what is missing is the link between having these critical skills and the solving of ( or mitigating of) complex modern political, economic and social problems. He asserts the link but does not make a sufficient or strong enough argument to convince listeners of the true value of the liberal arts. In some ways he does what he criticises other liberal arts scholars of doing.....making strong assertions with insufficient empirical evidence. Without a shadow of a doubt, a broad based, well taught liberal arts education is the best way to develop critical thinking skills, cultural awareness, self - awareness, confidence, and problem solving abilities.....I just wish Professor Drout had done a better job of explaining and demonstrating why this is the case.Lots of good food for thought though.
A follow-up lecture series would help make a stronger case.
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