Last night I joined members of the Theology Department at St. Catherine University (where I teach as an adjunct in their Masters in Theology program) for dinner with Archbishop Hebda. The subject for discussion was Pope Francis’ 2015 Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home).
Our discussion ranged over a number of themes in the encyclical, including the pope’s emphasis on dialogue. It was an edifying and enjoyable evening.
In preparation for the dinner, I spend some time giving the encyclical a careful re-read (perhaps more careful than my initial read when it first came out). One of the paragraphs that stood out for me (par. 215) offered a different take at my lament (and that of many others) of the decline of recognition of the value of a liberal arts education in favor of an emphasis on job training. Francis writes that
“the relationship between a good aesthetic education and the maintenance of a healthy environment cannot be overlooked.” By learning to see and appreciate beauty, we learn to reject self-interested pragmatism. If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruples. If we want to bring about deep change, we need to realize that certain mindsets really do influence our behavior. Our efforts at education will be inadequate and ineffectual unless we strive to promote a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society and our relationship with nature.
I link the quote to my insistence on the value of a liberal arts education because if all we expect our colleges and universities to do is prepare people for jobs, where is the space in which we are providing a “good aesthetic education”? Where and how are we teaching people to “see and appreciate beauty,” and to “reject self-interested pragmatism.”
Colleges and universities may not be the only venue for such education, but it is not an insignificant part of it.