‘A survey such as this can in no way do justice to the depths with which this degree engages. Modern Liberal Arts has meant so much more to me than anything these boxes can hold. It is a most remarkable program; a deeply profound, philosophical, educational, and vocation-inspiring experience. My deepest gratitude for the work of all MLA staff, whose dedication, faith in learning, and care for each student is an inspiration.’
[Anonymous: from the National Student Satisfaction Survey 2018]
‘In 2013 I was lucky to embark on a degree course that has its origins 2,500 years ago. While its ancient form was criticised for exclusivity, the Modern Liberal Arts programme, one that largely differs from that currently practised in the US, has a chequered history and incorporates the writings of those who were severely punished for heresy, were seen to have incited or partaken in revolution, and who have been either exiled or executed for advocating free thought and the questioning of convention. In sum, those among many who have contributed to the considered freedoms we have today.
This unique and holistic form of study will always, by its nature, be subversive, will always struggle, perhaps rightly in terms of proper reflection, against tides of stratified systems, the fear of change, the primacy of accepted ideas of success and suspicions against independent thought, but the hope is that one day education will embrace, at least in equal part to the currently established ‘traditional’ curriculum, the thinking space that Liberal Arts offers everyone of all ages for the contemplation of what it really means to them to be human. I will forever feel privileged to have been involved in this post-Renaissance Liberal Arts revival…’
[Sem Vine, MLA 2016]
[see also Vine, S. (2018) ‘What is Liberal Education and what could it be?’ LAS Students’ EBook.
‘A philosophical liberal arts education is … a human-focused education which, through broad-based and pluralistic subject matter and philosophical enquiry into the questions of human existence, can begin to nurture students with the aim of fostering a resilient and intellectually rounded graduate…
A post-foundational liberal arts education which embraces difficulty, complexity and uncertainty does not patronise students or give them false belief in the stability of the world. It is able to be fluid and adapt to the conversations which derive from the teaching and learning experience and in doing so it moves with the currents of cultural and economic instability rather than remaining fixed and stagnant. This creates a modern graduate with an understanding of the difficulty inherent in twenty-first century life’
[Adam Smith, MLA graduate 2017]
[see also Smith, A. (2018) ‘Economic precarity, modern liberal arts and creating a resilient graduate‘ Educational Philosophy and Theory, 50:11, pp. 1037-1044]
‘I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I applied for the Modern Liberal Arts course. During my three years, truths I had never questioned were suddenly deconstructed and left wide open. I had been conditioned, as many people are, to see the world from a very narrow lens. But it was through my learning and reading of some of the most important philosophical texts that I was I able to expand and shift my thinking. I no longer see the world as being one thing or the other, from my experience (and education) everything is always something or somewhere in between. Choosing to side with a particular truth closes you off to the endless possibilities of other ‘truths’, and it is only in the continuous pursuit of truth that we can we live a life that is virtuous- that’s what I took away from MLA. My education was a vastly transformative and liberating experience that has given me the tools to be an independent thinker. An education in Modern Liberal Arts should be compulsory to whoever is a citizen of the world.’
[Malak Ammar, MLA Graduate 2018]
“My decision to return to education following a break of twenty years was not taken lightly. I was taking a significant leap into the unknown. I knew that higher education would be challenging but not, it seems, in the ways I have experienced it. Should I have been forewarned about the feelings of ‘mystery, confusion, frustration, and futility that many students experience in their early months or years of … study[?]’ (Schön, 1987, p. 83). It seems uncertainty and doubt would become a significant and important part of my learning in the coming years. Would prior knowledge of the struggles have changed my decision? Or would the experience of difficulty become part my learning in higher education?”
The above excerpt is taken from an essay, ‘Reflections on higher education’, written by me, a third-year student, coming to the end of my undergraduate degree in March 2018. Having spent three years on the Modern Liberal arts degree I wanted to capture my experience, the highs, the lows and the absolute passion I have for this course.
Everyone applies to university for their own reasons and everyone has their own set of expectations when doing so. For me, discussion and debate formed a large part of what I was looking for. University students are often told of the importance of independent study and whilst I agree that this is part of the landscape of a student in higher education, independence does not have to mean isolation and a lack of support. Donald Schön draws our attention to the apparent paradox in education which involves us, as students, arriving at university without the knowledge sufficient to complete the course, yet being somewhat expected to know what and how to achieve it. However, as Schön writes ‘most students do attempt to carry out the paradoxical task’ (Schön, 1987, p. 83). Therefore, as I sat down in my first seminar imagine my relief when our first reading and discussion acknowledged this doubt and fear. I felt reassured that what I was feeling was perfectly normal! Schön’s text is something I have discussed frequently during the three years and continues to be the piece I return to whenever I start something new.
Liberal Arts at Winchester university with its smaller groups and its focus on discussion provides the perfect place to think and ask the questions which matter to me, to you, to us. No piece of text is deemed too difficult and as a group we read together. Our questions and discussions form the content in each seminar. There are no expectations that students will have already read or understood the text. Moreover, through the sharing of ideas a deep understanding emerges. I have had the freedom to study a range of subjects within the course such as: Film and Philosophy, Religious art, Aesthetics, Music and Tragedy to name just a few. Because of this, I have been exposed to texts and experiences that, I feel, would not have been available to me had I have chosen a degree specialising in just one subject. With such freedoms comes discipline. As liberal arts students, we learn to be disciplined through set questions, deadlines and, in some cases, the texts and readings we use.
I am truly thankful to have been a part of this wonderful degree. I feel different, I think differently and as I move on to the next part of wherever this journey will take me, I take with me a passion and curiosity to ask questions, to challenge and to listen.
[Claire Rogers, MLA Graduate, 2018]
I came across MLA in search of a university education where learning was more than instrumental. I was looking for a degree where I could, as I put it at the time, ‘just study’, but had little idea what it might be called or whether it even existed. I came from a Steiner Waldorf School where I experienced education as something living and meaningful in a way I found lacking as I waded through UCAS. I was interested in education and teaching, but I was far from ready to simply complete a teacher training. I was looking first to continue to learn myself. I felt that perhaps such a philosophical study might help me better find my way after university.
It’s hard to sum up my experiences over the past three years in just a few lines, but I can say MLA at Winchester took me further than I could have imagined and proved to be an educational experience in the most profound sense. It gave me time to engage with the ‘big questions’. Real time to immerse myself in ideas and ‘study’; three years to read and think and write. This work might not be easy, but difficulty is (in hindsight!) engaged with in the best of ways, becoming an integral part of the education. The teaching on the program was, without exception, superb. The small course size enables tutors to both challenge and support students on a very individual basis, which I valued greatly. Modules are thoroughly thought through and, covering a remarkable range in content, they carefully balance breadth and depth, succeeding in holding the discipline of ‘set’ core texts whilst allowing for the freedom of personal interest to develop and grow.
MLA is an education that does not simply ‘end’ after graduating. In the way it engages with first principles and core questions of the world and life (and death), it is not separate from ‘life’ as other subjects may be. On leaving Winchester this becomes particularly apparent, it almost becomes a way of life. Whilst study on the program is fundamentally philosophical, I find myself fully prepared and ready to (re)turn to ‘the world’ and work. The degree has equipped me with solid foundations. I’m full of energy and motivation, eager to try and put into practice ideas I’ve been working with and developing during this time. Currently I am working in a Camphill School (for children with disabilities), and I aim to begin teacher training shortly. As I move towards the other side of the classroom, I find the questions and ideas we engaged with on the degree, forming and informing my work, whilst moving and deepening with me, as life and work move on. Only time can tell, but I sense that this philosophical Liberal Arts education has taught me a certain resilience, a resilience towards difficulty, challenges, frustrations and contradictions in life. I’m aware there is a fine line to be drawn here, and am not speaking of resignation to difficulty, but perhaps I could say a willingness to work and live with it, learn from it, and ‘keep going’. (Something that entering the education system, where it’s not hard to despair, is invaluable!) I’m incredibly grateful for what has been a deeply profound and enriching educational experience. The truth I have come to find in (and as) education is what I now seek to live and make my work as teacher. With real vocation for this work and faith in learning, I now embrace the joyful difficulties of teaching ahead…
[Maia Pritchard, MLA Graduate 2018]
My experience of being a Modern Liberal Arts student was the feeling of being a part of a wide-open safe space in which I could explore the vast issues and problems that I could see in the world and in my own world. Within this sense of safety, I felt prepared to take risks to dive headfirst into the difficulties and complexities of the problems/issues raised during the period of study.
For the spiritually-oriented student, who is sustained by the way she casts her thoughtfulness into the world, the course was so aligned with my own personal outlook. I now say this in full confidence because through the input of both our peers and tutors and our examination of the issues, the MLA course embodied this space of profound interaction between humans, and of seeing the bigger picture in the smaller and the smaller in the bigger.
I questioned the universe from a young age, discovering a philosophical frame of mind during my later teenage years. I found this mindset so consuming, I began to wonder if the outer world had any reality to it, if I was the only thing that actually existed. In hindsight, it is perhaps easy to see this concept as self-important, and it had such a strong grasp on me that I worried it would never pass. Eventually, the anxiety of the episode subsided, but I think its effect may be seen in my choice to study this course which seemed to meet the path with which I had hitherto been occupied, and provide the best way forward for me.
It is such a wonderful course in its breadth of subject areas and the freedom and independence that its approach kindles to address the issues that we feel most pertinent in all our multiple points of view and lives. All this has ensured that as my time on the MLA course is complete, I feel ready to face the next phase in my life, and all the challenges and uncertainties that come, with the courage to find joy and education in these difficulties.
[Sarah Barber MLA Graduate 2018]
MLA graduate Jayne Scott sent us this. It was written by her nephew who was dying of Motor Neurone Disease. On our degree we see life and death as one the big questions that we have to think about. The following is a remarkable testament to an educative death. RIP Dr Ian Davis. [and thank you Jayne]
‘Tomorrow I become less orderly…
You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every BTU of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.
And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him/her that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let him/her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her/his eyes, that those photons created within her/him constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.
And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly.’