PERSPECTIVEnThe Closing of the Conservative MindnWhy do we call it liberal education? When anneighteen-year-old graduates from high school andngoes off to college to pick up a smattering of history andnliterature, why should we describe his course of study as thenliberal arts? Educators once knew the answers to thesenquestions, but it has been many years since I have run into ancollege dean who did not explain the term “liberal education”nas having something to do with liberating the youngnmind from the shackles of ignorance, prejudice, and tradition.nIn a sense they are right, since for all practical purposes anliberal education is a system of indoctrination designed tonproduce liberals. In origin, however, the root meaning ofnliberal comes from the Latin liber, “free.” In phrases liken”liberal arts,” liberalis was used to translate the Greekneleutherios (similarly derived from eleutheros, “free”),nwhich meant something like: having the quality and characternof a free man, as opposed to a slave. A liberal education,nthen, is an education fit for free men and one that fits themnfor freedom.nWhat did the ancients mean by such a distinction? Mostnobviously, freedom signified that a person was not owned bynanyone else — not his body or his mind, not his time or hisnlabor. This is not to say he was free of all obligation—quitenthe contrary. An Athenian or Roman citizen owed a greatndeal to his parents, his kin, and his country, but these werenlO/CHRONICLESnby Thomas Flemingnnnmoral and political obligations to be discharged freely andnwithout compulsion. If he was a farmer, he worked his ownnland; if a merchant he did business on his own account. Annemployee, by this definition, cannot be free; he is simply antool at the service of his masters.nThere are many arts appropriate to free men and women,nand every people decides for itself whether to includenweaving (of which the Egyptians were fond) or flute-playingn(which Alcibiades’ disdain made unpopular in Athens)namong the liberal arts. But certain elements of the originalnconception are a vital core that has been preserved wherevernthe ancient love of liberty has been cherished. Literature isnstudied because the great works of imagination are amongnthe principal agents that form the character of a people. Fornsimilar reasons history is taught, both to inspire the youngnwith a desire to emulate their ancestors, and to infuse thendebates of the present with the lessons of the past. Somentraining in logic is required, if a man is to think clearlynthrough the complicated political issues that perplex thencounsels of a self-governing nation. But more importantly,nhe must master grammar and rhetoric — the arts of speakingnand writing correcdy and effectively—because the object ofneducation is a citizen who can be of service to his family andnfriends and to his country. Only “a good man skilled innspeaking” — the best definition of an orator — can take annactive part in the political life of a free society.n