The Student News Site of Taipei American School




President of Wesleyan University on “Why Liberal Education Matters”


The president of Wesleyan University and historian, Doctor Michael Roth, visited Taipei American School on Oct. 21 and delivered two lunch hour speeches on “Why Liberal Education Matters.” He discussed the four parts of a liberal education—to liberate, to animate, to cooperate and to instigate—that make them most compelling for today’s students.
Roth’s speech was a bit more informal than the usual TAS speaker. Instead of reading from behind a podium, Roth got off the stage and spoke while walking amongst the crowd. He began his speech by clarifying that a liberal education is different than the traditional European liberal arts education, where students obtain a wide variety of skills during their “free time” to exercise one’s interests. He described the American version as a more “pragmatic tradition”, where individuals are encouraged to find work that is meaningful to them.  
At the beginning of each of his four points, Roth used a historical example to illustrate his point. For his first point of “Liberate,” he used the example of Frederick Douglass, a slave that gained freedom after learning how to read, to show how “reading will make [one] unfit for slavery.” Thus, this showed the liberating effect of a liberal education.
For the second point of “Animate,” Roth used the example of Ralph Waldo Emerson, a writer, and philosopher, who delivered a speech at Harvard telling people to “escape” the school because it was too fixated on exams. 
Roth also talked about the appreciation for music; those who understand the music will think it is “alive”, and those who do not will think it is “dead”. “Education should make the world animate for you, alive for you,” Roth said.
For his third point of “Cooperate,” Roth used the example of Jane Addams, an American settlement activist. Through her work with immigrants, she actively learned from those around her, even though the immigrants she is helping may not be of as high a social standing as her. This demonstrated the ideal of cooperation, where every individual may learn something from one another. 
For his fourth point of “Instigate,” Roth proposed the question of “how do you instigate a rebellion at your school,” and delves into the idea of obedience within students. A liberal education is “one where you get out from under the impulse to obey others.” The goal is for students to be educated enough to be able to stand on their own without the support of the older generation. He later clarified in response to a student’s question that while the point may not be to completely remove obedience, it is important to get out of the habit of obeying.
After the speech, both students and teachers raised their hands to ask questions, leading to a deeper conversation on the importance of a liberal education.

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