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date: 18 October 2019

Tradition and Change in the Curriculum of a Liberal or General Education

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.

The idea of a liberal or general education is one of the most consequential and enduring in the history of education. From its origins in antiquity, the idea and the form of liberal arts and sciences curriculum associated with it grew to become a shaping force in the formation of the universities of the Middle Ages. With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century both liberal education and the largely classical content of the curriculum ran into strong opposition. By the late 20th century the traditional idea and varying modifications of its conceptualization and curriculum content on both sides of the Atlantic were frequently reasserted. In response, discontent with liberal education and its curricular expressions took new and increasingly challenging forms. The debate surrounding the idea as applied today in both schools and colleges has a new vibrancy. This is especially evident among those arguing for innovative conceptualizations of the venerable notion of liberal education.