At times, I feel like we are in defense of our “liberal arts” education at the expense of science and math. What we propound in our liberal arts approach is the development of an open-minded thinker and not the promotion of one discipline over another. We want our students to think broadly and “liberally,” to be free from narrow-minded notions and approaches.
Though we do not use the acronyms of STEAM or STREAM, our curriculum is as rigorous across science and math as one will find in most schools. Want to be an engineer? Then step inside our certified FAB Lab. Want to think about mathematics beyond AP Calculus BC? Then enroll in Multivariable Calculus or Linear Algebra. AP Physics, AP Biology, and AP Chemistry round out our enticing instruction in the sciences. But whether a poet, a mathematician, or lab scientist, one must be able to think about the world in broad ways and from multiple perspectives.
When I wore my college counseling hat, I asked an officer in the army to give me some advice when students were considering a military academy, ROTC, or perhaps Officer Candidate School (OCS). What would be the best option for one looking to pursue a career in the army? This officer’s answer was that all approaches were valid and encouraged. In this officer’s opinion, the military would not have the divergent thinking that is necessary for a successful organization if all members came from one of the military academies. I likened this answer to how one should feel about the liberal arts education. Broad preparation for thinking, deciphering, and enacting is necessary, and working one’s way from poetry, to psychology, to Physics and to the Pythagorean Theorem shapes a mind that can understand multiple perspectives of the world.
Saint James students engage in a very broad range of classes, sports, arts, and clubs. Their day-to-day experience is one of engagement with students and adults from broad backgrounds and skills. We value our students’ abilities to communicate and form relationships with people of all types, and as we are a very diverse community, especially amongst the student body, being able to see the world through another’s eyes is invaluable. The Association of American Colleges and Universities sums up the outlook of Saint James best in its definition of the liberal arts: “A liberal education helps students develop a sense of social responsibility, as well as strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.” Our own philosophy asks our students to aim to be “leaders for good in the world.” I can find no better path toward that leadership than the embracing of a liberal arts education.
About the Author: Marc Batson is the Assistant Headmaster at Saint James School, a coed boarding and day school for students in grades 8-12 in Hagerstown, Maryland.