At The Foundry, the official blog of the Heritage Foundation, author Ryan Messmore writes that “it was pleasantly surprising to encounter the older meaning of liberal on a recent trip to Los Angeles.” The kind of “liberal” he has in mind is liberal education, as witnessed during a visit of Southern California campuses that included a trip to Thomas Aquinas College.
Classical liberal education, writes Mr. Messmore, equips “students with the tools of learning (including grammar, logic, rhetoric) and the love of truth,” and “prizes the classic texts of Western civilization.” He adds that “liberal education aims to produce not simply a good lawyer or accountant but a good person.”
This is especially true at Thomas Aquinas College, where classical liberal education is guided by the light of the Catholic faith, in a community that strives to uphold Catholic teaching. But why is such an education called “liberal?” Mr. Messmore explains:
… because it liberates students from inconsistent thinking, ignorance of right and wrong, and slavery to their own passions. What does such an education make students free for? To pursue any number of productive endeavors with deep appreciation and understanding, including, among other things, self-government. America’s Founders, many of whom were educated in the liberal tradition, insisted that only a people steeped in virtues such as reason and self-control could sustain a free democracy….
Liberal education sometimes draws the critique that it isn’t useful or practical; listening to these students, though, a visitor can’t help but think how different things might look in our society if most Americans possessed this degree of basic economic understanding.
In another class, students carefully dissect a page of Euclid’s mathematical work Elements. They labor to make sure they understand how every step in one of his geometric proofs is logically necessary for producing the conclusion. How likely is it that these young people would be taken in by the emotion-provoking sound bytes and ad hominem attacks that often pass for political discourse in America.
Mr. Messmore is the Heritage Foundation’s William E. Simon Fellow for Religion and a Free Society. Thomas Aquinas College has a longstanding, warm relationship with the William E. Simon Foundation, which has made numerous grants to the College’s financial fund and to the construction of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel. Indeed, the first of these gifts came from Mr. Simon himself.
The College is grateful to the Simon Foundation for its generosity, as well as to Mr. Messmore for his visit and his kind words!
“At Thomas Aquinas College, I learned that the world makes sense. It was so wonderful to discover that there is a real order in things and that I could understand it.”
– Frater Simeon Goodwin, O. Praem. (’10)
St. Michael's Abbey, Orange County, Calif.
“Thomas Aquinas College knows this — that the life of the mind involves the spiritual life as well — and that is why I have always thought of this institution as a college in the image and likeness of John Paul II.”
– George Weigel