Richard Lewis (2011-12)

I decided to take the MA Modern Liberal Arts as a direct result of my undergraduate degree Education Studies, which was at that time, within the same department. When I began my degree course, I expected to be ‘prepared’ to work in the classroom, and that the modules would be geared to a practical natural progression into teaching. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t. From the start, the course had a wonderfully wide ranging theoretical emphasis, and this breadth really allowed me to learn that what was important was not so much the level of knowledge understood in one field of study, but the acquisition of a critical mind, and the critical tools needed to use it. The pinnacle came when writing my final year project. At that time, the Modern Liberal Arts degree programme was running alongside the Education Studies course, and as a result, I was given a lot of freedom to decide what I was going to write about. In the end, I combined philosophy and science, in an exploration of truth in the macrocosm and microcosm. The journey was fantastic and this experience left me wanting more. I had experienced a kind of freedom in education that had been lacking in my school years. I had written a dissertation whose only purpose was to benefit my own ideas and to further my understanding of myself.

My journey was already 3 years long, but it was in no way over. The MA Modern Liberal Arts offered me a chance to continue my studies in a manner that suited me, and with a breadth that would be able to accommodate my continually developing thoughts. To begin with I sat with my tutor and we discussed what I wanted to take away from the course, and decided that for the first essay I would write 10,000 words about something in the history of Western philosophy. As I began, and in conjunction with the weekly seminars my essay transformed into an exposition of Heidegger’s philosophy of Being and Dasein, read against Hegel. It is this freedom which I love so much about the course. It is the ability to read and let your mind take you to places that at the start were not in view. Of course we all have to follow set formats, and fulfil certain criteria, but ultimately the course is about you and your experience of the journey.

I have always had a fascination with physics, but have always lacked the mathematics to think that I could really write a proper essay on it. I have also always been told by my grandfather, himself an excellent mathematician, that physics and philosophy do not mix, and that written language (i.e. not mathematical language) is incapable of describing the world exposed by modern physics. This was, and this is a testament of my tutor, certainly not off limits, and was eagerly encouraged.

I wrote a 5,000 word essay examining the consequences of quantum theory on philosophy, and subsequent consequences of philosophy on quantum theory. Its purpose? Again, it was for me. Bringing the two subjects together was not so much about proving one thing or another. It was a process of thinking, and subsequently learning. As with all the essays, it was to benefit me and only me. It was about enhancing my own thinking, and exploring my own ideas.

 

For my third essay, my tutor thought it would be a good exercise for me to look at a subject which I had previously not explored. So I embarked on a journey to discover the world of the Italian Renaissance. The journey was difficult at first, but with excellent advice, such as recommended books and sources, I began to find my way round the literature. As a result of this essay, I began to discover more about the liberal arts, and it has subsequently had a great influence my dissertation.

I am, as I write this, at the end of reading for my dissertation. I’m not sure if I’m ready to start writing, and I’m still not certain where it will end up, but I have learnt that that is sometimes (if not always) the best way to be. This is the culmination of my education so far. It is therefore fitting that it will look at the possibility of an education that is in itself.

This course, as I have subsequently found reading for my dissertation, has provided me with an education purely for me. Its only purpose was to develop me as an individual and to educate me for no other purpose than itself – to educate. I would recommend anyone to try it; this course provides an experience that you will not get anywhere else. You will receive an education that is in and for itself. It is, in my view, the pinnacle of any education. You may not leave with the prospect of a better job, or a skill set that will immediately be recognised by an employer, but you will have received something much greater. It is an education that enhances you as an individual, and that is something I believe is priceless. I genuinely think that the Modern Liberal Arts programmes are fantastic. The MA has truly changed my life for the better, as it has brought me closer to truly understanding who I am, and what I believe.

As for my future, I am not sure. I had wished to become a primary school teacher, but after a year as a teaching assistant, I am not so sure that is the job for me. At present, I wish to apply what I have learnt on this course, and take it to the world at large. I want to continue my education by travelling, and who knows what new ideas and concepts I will discover. This course has taught me that my education will never stop. As long as I keep thinking, I will keep learning. I am indebted to this course and its tutors. I have taken, and owe, so much. My payment for these debts is my everlasting education which they have instilled. What payment could be more befitting a teacher, than to know that your student will use the skills you taught and, in many ways, no longer needs you.