Educators have long lamented the critical condition of the liberal arts in the United States, arguing that the ever-increasing pressure placed on schools to serve the marketplace has undermined the true meaning and value of liberal education. At present, while there is no shortage of solutions calling for sweeping changes in attitudes and structures, relatively few look at how we might respond at the level of instruction. In this article, I make a case for asking students formally, and in partial fulfillment of general education requirements, to confront the legacy of the liberal arts in the first-year writing classroom. I argue that liberal arts students need to learn about the liberal arts in substantive terms; otherwise they risk mistaking breadth requirements for mere diversions from their declared majors and fall into the habit of dismissing certain disciplinary and interdisciplinary principles as somehow superfluous to their degrees. Reporting on my own experiences teaching liberal arts themes, and offering evaluative summaries of possible course readings, I argue that introducing themes of decline and renewal in the liberal arts into the first-year writing curriculum will positively influence our students to make more thoughtful decisions before and after graduating.


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pp. 157-170
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