Liberal Education

October 1, 1995

The academic program of the Ashbrook Center assists students in acquiring the intellectual and moral virtues required for thoughtful citizenship and thoughtful lives. We hold that the educated person (an ideal many strive for but few achieve) is a liberally educated person, which, since ancient Greece, has meant a person whose knowledge has made him free of enslavement to the false, the ugly, and the base. Ashbrook Scholars learn to approach the study of political life as an essential part of becoming a free person. In its essence, this study liberates. Our method is simple: sustained reflection on (1) the writings of those who have thought most deeply and comprehensively about human nature and political organization, and (2) the opinions, characters, and actions of those who have most remarkably practiced the political art.

Our approach to the study of public affairs emphasizes the importance of a knowledge of American politics and history in a liberal education. For instruction in the moral and theoretical foundations of American politics, Ashbrook Scholars study the most insightful American statesmen Jefferson, The Federalist, and Lincoln, to name but a few. They learn to understand the American Constitution and the governmental structure it established in light of the principles of justice and institutional wisdom that animated its founders. They read classic novels by America’s greatest writers, awakening to the sense in which great literature can stir and teach us more than treatises.

Whether such a course of study makes a student a better citizen and a better human being depends on the student. By broadening and deepening their knowledge of what it means to be an American, Ashbrook Scholars increase their knowledge of themselves. And self-knowledge and knowledge of one’s country have forever been found in the characters of those Americans whose public achievements we honor most.