Education may be defined as an action or process of formal teaching by precept, example, or experience that results in the knowledge of information and skills, and mental, spiritual, and aesthetic development.
This definition includes five essential components of education that each may be identified with a word beginning with the letter “a”: (1) The actors of education are the teachers and students. (2) The aim of education is the outcome in the students desired by the teachers, i.e., that which must be learned and that into which one must develop. (3) The actions of education are teaching by the teachers and learning by the students. (4) The avenue of education is the curriculum or course of study taught by the teachers to achieve the desired outcome in the students. (5) The assessment of education is the evaluation of the desired outcome, curriculum, teaching, and learning in order to maximize each of these components
Effective education depends upon the extent to which each of the actors, teachers and students, understand and fulfill their roles with respect to the other essential components of education. Teachers have the primary responsibility for successful student outcomes. Furthermore, this responsibility of teachers is the one over which all educators, not only teachers, but also administrators, have the most control.
Teachers initiate education by establishing desired student outcomes: the desired knowledge of information and skills, and mental, spiritual, and aesthetic development. Next, they create the curriculum in the form of programs, and the courses of which these programs consist, to accomplish these objectives. They then teach the curriculum with methods designed to elicit learning. Finally, they assess the learner for the achievement of outcomes, and they also assess their teaching for its effectiveness in obtaining the outcomes
The curriculum utilized to accomplish student outcomes in a university education will center on the liberal arts. The liberal arts are comprised of those disciplines that seek to describe and interpret the cosmos and human existence. Therefore, they deal largely with metaphysical issues, matters that have the greatest significance for life. For example, the liberal arts equip one to make judgments about ideas and values, answering such questions as the following ones: What is the meaning of life? What is true? What is just? What is moral? What is beautiful? Consequently, they also concern themselves with relationships.
The disciplines that historically have comprised the liberal arts overlap. Therefore, the disciplines ideally should not be taught discretely, but holistically, with teachers working across disciplines in dialogue and collaboration with one another. These disciplines typically have included the humanities, which are more subjective in their orientation (e.g., theology, philosophy, literature, rhetoric, music, art, and history). They also include the more objective sciences, both the natural (including mathematics) sciences and social sciences.
The desired outcome of a liberal arts education is the development of fully integrated individuals who are able to think critically and soundly about ideas, values, and aesthetics. Institutions of higher education in the Christian tradition may refine this goal as the integration of faith, learning, and life. In constant collaboration with one another, then, instructors in the liberal arts prepare students to develop a worldview from which they can interpret all of life. Thus, instruction in the liberal arts gives students the lens through which they can clearly see and understand life. In other words, liberal arts instruction seeks to cultivate people that are truly human. And, part of what it means to be truly human is creative expression. Therefore, the liberal arts both critique and give expression to human existence. And, both this critique and creative expression enable students to influence positively the culture in which they find themselves.
One also may view the goal of liberal arts instruction as the creation of the context through which the hermeneutical spiral that characterizes all learning is traveled. This context enables students to establish an appropriate starting point as well as gives them the tools to journey effectively through a life of learning, interpreting, creating, and contributing. In other words, the desired result of a liberal arts education is the formation of what once was called an educated person. A liberal arts education, seeks to teach students how to live, not just how to make a living.
It is crucial to note that a successful liberal arts education cannot simply relegate the liberal arts to the components of a general education requirement. Rather, the liberal arts must form the foundation of a university education on which the entire curriculum must be based. From another perspective, they must form the core of the entire institution’s curriculum. Therefore, this core curriculum in the liberal arts must cohere with itself and the entire curriculum. The educational objectives and assessment of both the core and specialized curricula should be essentially the same. This approach gives the institution the best hope of leveraging strategic opportunities to equip students to formulate judgments about and make positive contributions to the key forces of cultural influence in our time.