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Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  187 ratings  ·  32 reviews
An eloquent defense of liberal education, seen against the backdrop of its contested history in America

Contentious debates over the benefits—or drawbacks—of a liberal education are as old as America itself. From Benjamin Franklin to the Internet pundits, critics of higher education have attacked its irrelevance and elitism—often calling for more vocational instruction.
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published May 6th 2014 by Yale University Press (first published January 1st 2014)
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Dec 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Beyond the University is a brief, scholarly history of the philosophy of higher education in America, excerpting from some of the best and most intriguing figures of the past 200 years. The author, Michael Roth, is the current president of Wesleyan University (disclosure: I am an alum) and his book comes as a response to, in part, an increasingly specialized economy, global access to courses via the internet, and assertions that the value of higher education should be measured by immediate ...more
Mary Bronson
This book was not bad. I had to read this book for my Liberal Arts Studies class and I thought it was wrote in a way where the average person who is not in the academic field can understand it. I thought Roth made some very good points about why Liberal Education matters. I liked the examples he provided from Thomas Jefferson to W.E.B. Dubois.
May 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Roth writes an excellent little overview of the philosophical undercurrents of liberal arts education in the United States. The book draws comparisons between the liberal arts concept and the advent of the modern research university. He traces the liberal art tradition's origins back to Jefferson and Franklin, finding interesting links to their philosophical ideas and the founding of the Universities of Pennsylvania and Virginia. He traces the liberal arts concept throughout the 19th and 20th ...more
Dan Graser
Nov 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Many will be familiar with Michael S. Roth from his popular Coursera courses, and many others will have heard his name from his current position, President of Wesleyan University. However, I must confess that I had only heard of him from a reference in Martha Nussbaum's work, "Not for Profit," dealing with this same issue, the continuing importance and relevance of a liberal education. I gladly took her recommendation and what a fantastic recommendation it was, this volume is a fantastic history ...more
Tait Jensen
May 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The takeaway: in the 21st century, liberal education can no longer be perceived as the activity of the cloistered scholar. Liberal education must energize the student, creating "habits of action from a spirit of broad inquiry."

This book is a delightful, cursory journey into the history of our notions of liberal education, and its associated controversies and critics, since America's founding. Well worth the read if you are an educator, a student, or anyone who still believes that humanistic
Jul 22, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: america
This took me awhile to read - I didn't finish it before it expired on Overdrive and then I wasn't driven to pick it up again quickly.

It was an interesting book, just perhaps not what I expected. More history of education at the college/university level, less concrete action points in terms of how to do better at teaching at that level right now. I learned a lot from it and I'm glad I pushed through and finished even if at times it felt like a bit of a slog.
Jun 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
The title, of course, begs the question: what is a liberal education? Michael Roth is aware of this and devotes the majority of his book to framing, if not answering, the question. The discussion focuses on American pedagogy, with a short but necessary detour to include Berlin “research university” concepts. It is an historical journey, starting with Jefferson and Franklin and continuing to Dewey and, most recently, Richard Rorty. What we might consider as modern issues, such as vocational vs. ...more
Sep 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
I read this for my "Blow Your Mind Book Group" and while it didn't blow my mind, it prompted some interesting discussions and did a good job of defining liberal education. This book (and I assume most of the educational system) defines liberal education as two-fold: 1) making students critical thinkers and 2) providing knowledge (whether history, philosophy, art or science) that forms a collective culture. [For better or for worse, TV and movies have taken the place of education when it comes to ...more
Scott Haraburda
May 30, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Goodreads First Reads Giveaway Book.


Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters is a short-book (less than 200 pages) with notes and an index that briefly delves into the debates involving the importance of liberal education. The author, Michael S. Roth, president of the Wesleyan University, describes a diverse historical account of American education, providing the reader both the strengths and weaknesses of different thoughts.

Since the founding of
Adina Lav
Feb 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a must-read for anyone wishing to understand the connection between a well educated, engaged electorate and a democratic republic. And how the republic falls apart without that well educated, engaged electorate.
May 15, 2014 rated it liked it
I received Beyond the University as part of a Goodreads giveaway. As president (and an alum) of Wesleyan University, Michael Roth highlights the history, current state of, and critiques of a liberal arts education, while making a case for its importance in creating a society of curious, aware, lifelong learners.

As an alum of a liberal arts university, I don't really have to be sold on the merits of such an education, so this read was preaching to the choir, so to speak. For traditional students,
Oct 17, 2014 rated it liked it
This book is an excellent survey of the evolution of "liberal" education--education that broadens and sharpens the mind, as opposed to vocational training. The author advocates strongly that our colleges should (and often do) expose students to challenging ideas, so that they can use critical thinking skills to enrich their own lives, and to move our society in the right direction.

Unfortunately, the book is written in the kind of bloated, abstruse language that critics of our universities seize
Eric Jensen
Mar 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting and well-written analysis of the history of liberal education in the United States. It's striking how many of the current debates about the role of college education (e.g. how much should it be about job training vs. shaping citizens for a democratic society) have been part of higher ed right from the start. (So perhaps we shouldn't expect them to be resolved any time soon!)

I enjoyed learning more of this history. My only disappointment was that Roth's concluding chapter
Jason Jordan
Sep 17, 2014 rated it liked it
Though I agree with Roth's premise that liberal education matters in the sense that the university's primary goal should be to educate people so they can become more knowledgeable and, in turn, contribute to society in positive respects, I'm not convinced that his arguments are compelling enough to persuade someone whose view of the university is that it should merely serve as a career training ground. Yes, career training is part of it, but that shouldn't take precedence over other factors such ...more
Nora Devlin
May 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-read
I enjoyed this book. It was informative and interesting. The style of writing was engaging. However, splitting this into 4 chapters with no section headings was torture for the reader. What kind of person would think this is a one sitting (or even 4 sitting) read!?! Please be kind to your readers. That is really my main critique. As someone interested in the field but still new to the details, I do not have an in-depth critique at this time but I felt it was a nice introduction to the history of ...more
Jun 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: education
I thought this was the best of the recent crop on post-secondary education. I took Roth's Coursera course on "The Modern and Post Modern" and was very impressed with his presentation and the content. This particular book does build through a good history of higher education as other reviewers noted and I thought it appropriate. It made clear the non-elitist roots, and the "freeing" or liberating nature of the education, not a specific tie to humanities or a particular canon. The opposition is ...more
May 11, 2014 rated it liked it
"If we educators saw ourselves more often as explorers of the normative rather than as critics of normativity, we would have a better chance to reconnect our intellectual work to broader currents in public culture" (p. 186).

Critical thinking is all well and good, according to Roth, but we shouldn't get so fixated on it that we lose our ability to take other perspectives and learn from those with whom we disagree. This openness is what we need for ourselves and what we need to guide our students
Sep 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A really thought-provoking discussion challenging us to consider where we really want to be with higher education. Roth surveys US thinkers to explore how this has developed and draw out the important considerations for the future, without laying down a particular course. Although based on US HE, there is plenty here to challenge educational thinking in non-US countries.
Maria Catherino
Jun 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I wish this had been required in my American Literature course. The debate over vocational vs liberal education is nothing new, the arguments remain virtually unchanged since the United States were founded. This book gives a nice concise history of liberal education in the United States and addresses different philosophies through the ages about what the purpose of an education truly is.
Jul 13, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a fine book if you are looking for an overview of the history of liberal education in America. His arguments about preserving such education today did not strike me as particularly creative or energizing, but maybe that's the point.
David Bristol
Jun 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
For those like me who value their liberal arts education Roth has provided both a history of such a college curriculum in the the U.S. and an argument in its defense. I am still pessimistic however given the pressures facing liberal arts colleges particularly the smaller schools.
Jul 06, 2014 rated it liked it
A rousing defense of the social and moral value of a well-rounded education designed to inculcate critical thinking. Purely instrumental views of education, that in effect reduce intellectual development to the status of a vocation like plumbing, is foolish.
Jul 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was a Goodreads give away. The author explores the development of liberal arts education. It is a degree intended to provide a mental framework for further intellectual development. This book is well written and informative.
Brittany Laccetti
Sep 18, 2014 rated it it was ok
I had to read this book for a class. I thought it was really dry and not very exciting. Not the type of book I would have picked up to read by myself.
Dec 29, 2014 rated it did not like it
It had a few inspirational moments, but not much beyond that.
Jun 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
My co-worker and I were discussing the merits of reading fiction. He said he only reads non-fiction, what's the point of novels? This book articulates what I was too dumbfounded to say.
Aug 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A very good review of American University system, its history and attempts, failures and advantages. After this read you might think twice before "investing" in some fancy university
Oct 26, 2014 rated it did not like it
I read this for a board I am on. Or should I say bored.

Jul 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
My son will attend a Liberal Arts college and my husband is an educator so this book was very good for me.
Mills College Library
370.112 R8456 2014
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