Michael S. Roth
Beyond the University
Why Liberal Education Matters
Yale University Press 2014
With a new focus on vocational and work ready education, the notion of a liberal education is becoming less valued in American society. Though, there are still defenders of this well-rounded and classic form of education. One staunch defender is Dr. Michael S. Roth, current President of Wesleyan University and author of Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters (Yale University Press, 2014). As the title suggests, Dr. Roth contends that liberal education is still important in higher education and how it can be molded onto modern advancements, such as aligning liberal education with MOOCs.
To illustrate liberal education’s impact on American society, Dr. Roth’s book casts an expansive list of intellectuals, politicians, and writers who all espouse “enlightened” principles of education. From Thomas Jefferson’s belief that better education was needed so that the elites would not unfairly run society, to W. E. B. DuBois’ and Jane Addams’ inspiration from their German experiences, and Benjamin Franklin’s lampooning of Harvard elitism, this book includes a diverse, yet connected, plethora of figures throughout history. Dr. Roth helps to relate these historical narratives to contemporary educational conversations by interjecting his personal experiences in various areas of the book. Old ideals of “specialization” and the current vocational craze especially bond to provide relevance to today’s conversations. The book closes with Thomas Dewey, the influential American educator, and with a moment from the author’s lecture in China, where liberal education is just beginning to take hold. Dr. Roth joins the New Books in Education to discuss his book, his interesting education career, and to tell us what “pragmatic education” means.