A Mission Week Reflection on… Education Rooted in Liberal Arts

Shawn Kramer

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means for an education, a university, to be “rooted in the liberal arts.” I’m a farmer’s daughter, so “rooted in” conjures up images of something green and flourishing growing out of fertile soil. What makes the soil fertile? Or in this case, the education? What makes the liberal arts education especially fertile – capable of producing something of value or worth?

Content is certainly a factor – engaging students with classic texts, great literature, the cultural legacies of diverse societies and peoples. Process is also important. A fertile classroom draws students into the adventure of discovery, the excitement of answering questions, the practical benefits of critical thinking. It helps students link theory to practice.

At Saint Joseph’s University, however, we are rooted not only in the liberal arts, but in the liberal arts shaped by the Ignatian tradition. And this, perhaps most of all, is what makes our soil fertile – we are a community grounded in faith, hope and love.

We teach mathematics not merely for the practical facility of it, but also in such a way that students can see the wondrous God-given beauty built into the structure of the cosmos. We teach Catholicism not merely as part of our intellectual heritage, but as a living practice.

We teach about societies, past and present, so as to challenge students to change the societies in which they live for the better. We infuse our curriculum with ethical considerations, we call students to think about more than their own well-being, we challenge them not only to consider, but to respond to the great questions of life’s purpose, meaning and value.

My hope? That the lives nurtured in this fertile soil flourish for generations.

Shawn Madison Krahmer, Ph.D.
Associate Dean for Humanities
College of Arts and Sciences