Strong Liberal Arts Background


The fourth foundation needed to "impact learners in diverse and evolving learning communities" is a strong liberal arts background. Research has consistently demonstrated the need for Professionals of the 21st Century to have the knowledge of their content and the ability to understand how to effectively communicate, problem-solve, relate their content to other content, and critically think in order to effectively instruct (Danielson, 2007; Darling-Hammond, 2002; Womack, 2004; Stewart, 2003).

In addition, schools are considered by many to have multiple goals and responsibilities within the community (Ryan & Cooper, 2010). These goals include academic, vocational, social and civic, and personal development ends. In recent decades, schools have tried to be all things to all people. According to Ryan & Cooper (2010):

The education of America's children regularly tops the list of the public's social concerns. Particularly now, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, our educational system is receiving major attention from social critics and politicians because of this high priority, the U.S. teaching forcepresent and near futureis receiving a good deal of scrutiny. Americans are relying on their teachers to instruct, guide, inspire, motivate, and occasionally prod their children to learn more than ever before. (p. 21).

With this phenomenon being noted, it is apparent that our Professionals of the 21st Century must not only understand and be able to effectively teach their content, but they must also be aware of societal, academic, vocational, and personal issues related to school participation. This is particularly important since, according to Vygotsky and more current theorists (Marion, 2011), learning take places within the larger socio-cultural setting. To effectively participate in this profession, our students need a strong liberal arts background in which they contribute as a knowledgeable professional within society. This foundation is in strong agreement with the Arkansas Tech University general education goal statement, which asserts:

The basis for the student's intellectual growth and scholarly skill development is the general education program, which provides the context for more advancedand specialized studies and the foundation for life-long learning. The general education curriculum is designed to provide university-level experiences that engender capabilities in communication, abstract inquiry, critical thinking, analysis of data, and logical reasoning; an understanding of scientific inquiry, global issues, historical perspectives, literary and philosophical ideas, and social and governmental processes; the development of ethical perspectives; and an appreciation for fine and performing arts.

The Unifying Forces of Diversity, Leadership, Oral and Written Communication, Technology, Purposeful Reflection, and Parents and Community in Our Strong Liberal Arts Background:

Various professional organizations have cited the essential need that our Professionals of the 21st Century have the ability to consider the diverse perspectives of their learners (and fellow professionals within their particular field of expertise [e.g., NCTE, 1996; NCTM, 1989]). This diversity includes the way in which particular individuals examine content, communicate within the content, express their background knowledge in the content, etc.

Therefore, our Professionals of the 21st Century must have a strong liberal arts background to help them "impact learners in diverse learning communities." An understanding of the society, expected skills, history, and philosophies of the culture in which the professional will be practicing will allow the professional to be a model of expertise and citizenry that is expected by many in today's diverse society (Rose & Gallup, 2003).

In addition strong leadership understanding and skills are essential in today's school and society. In order to provide this leadership, Professionals of the 21st Century must have a basis of understanding that is considered expert for their profession and for professionals in general (Donaldson, 2001; Fullan, 2001; Morrison, Ross, & Kemp, 2001; Reeves, 2008). According to Ryan and Cooper (2007):

A school system is a bureaucracy whose long arm extends from the state commissioner of education to the local district superintendent of schools to the individual school principal. That long arm is, in fact, educational policythe ideas that are supposed to direct what happens in a school and, more specifically, in your classroom." (p. 460).

It is important that our Professionals of the 21st Century understand the role of leadership within the society and how they might demonstrate a liberal arts expertise to be considered a leader within the school and community (DuFour, Eaker & DuFour, 2008; Fullan, 2004, Marzano & Waters, 2009). Further, the Professionals of the 21st Century need to demonstrate an ability to effectively communicate through oral and written communication. This ability has been oft cited as a necessary tool of the educational professional (Cooper & Morreale, 2003; Darling-Hammond, 2002). Candidates should be well prepared through their liberal arts training to be effective communicators within the school and community. This is a vital characteristic of Professionals of the 21st Century since they many times provide the model of communication expertise to their students.

A strong liberal arts background is also essential to the Professional of the 21st Century due to the constant interaction of the professional with parents and the community. One role of the professional is that of social and civic responsibility (Rose & Gallup, 2003). This role requires the Professionals of the 21st Century to be adept at effectively interacting with a diverse constituency. To accomplish this goal the Professionals of the 21st Century must exhibit basic communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and understanding of social and governmental processes, philosophical ideas, history, etc.

The role of technology in developing a strong liberal arts expertise should not be underestimated. The ability to effectively use of technology is not just a "school-building" concern. But as noted by ISTE (2002), "To live, learn, and work successfully in an increasingly complex and information-rich society, students and teachers must use technology effectively" (p.4). The ability to use technology has become essential since much of the information we now use has been created, compiled, and/or presented through some form of advanced technology (Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007; Picciano, 2006; Pitler, Hubbell,& Kuhn). Our students should be models of technology expertise and this expertise should improve as they progress through their initial liberal arts preparation and conclude their respective graduate program preparation.

Finally, purposeful reflection plays a key role in the development and improvement of a strong liberal arts background. As students are asked to consider various philosophical ideas, social and governmental processes, historical perspectives, and so forth; they are being asked to reflect on broad generalizations and concepts. This ability should continue to improve as they are asked to purposefully reflect more specifically on classroom learning. The strong liberal arts expert is able to think reflectively and purposefully about the content, diversity of student thought and background, underlying larger rationales for learning new content and/or skills, etc (Henniger, 2004; Wilson, 2008; Stewart. 2003).

The liberal arts background that includes historical perspectives, governmental processes, philosophical perspectives, etc should improve as our Professionals of the 21st Century continue through our undergraduate and graduate preparation programs. For instance as our candidates are asked to specifically consider governmental processes directing much of the efforts of education (such as No Child Left Behind), they are becoming more knowledgeable in their liberal arts background. As they consider the societal situations and conditions that led to many of the current theories of learning, their liberal arts background is improving. This is an ongoing and unending life-long learning pursuit that has been included in the "life-long" learning standards communicated by various state and program entities.