THE LIBERAL ARTS
Our Compelling, Proprietary Curriculum
The liberal arts are the knowledge and skills that a person needs to become a free citizen (meaning, he understands his freedom, not that he just inherits it ignorantly). At Williamsburg we pursue the liberal arts by learning about The Great Conversation and studying some of history’s great works of literature, art, and music.
The Great Conversation is a dialogue that began in ancient history, and continues to this day––a dialogue about the most meaningful and challenging questions in life. Aristotle explored the question “what is the good life?”
There’s still a healthy debate on this topic. Shakespeare seemed to argue for moral relativity: “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” But, is that what he really meant?
In the 1600s Galileo was sentenced to house arrest for asserting that the earth revolves around the sun. He started a dialogue that sparked a new understanding of the universe, and the dawn of modern science.
Today The Great Conversation has to answer complicated questions about the morality of stem cell research, the true meaning of equality, and how to live sustainably on the earth. The Great Conversation is open to all––but there’s a price to be paid. You have to be willing to do the hard work of studying the great books, because this is where the conversation begins.
What do we mean by Great Books? They are the books that have endured through history because they grapple with timeless questions. They are classics. Of course, a book doesn’t have to be old to be great. But time sifts ideas, and those that stick from one generation to another have a special quality. Great books make us think, learn, love, and live in deeper ways; they also help us appreciate our Western heritage.
The West starts in Athens, and continues west through Europe and North America. But why a capital W? In this context, the West means the civilization that has created and conducted The Great Conversation, starting in ancient Athens, and continuing through the Middle Ages, Modernity, and today.
The thing that unites Westerners from different nations and continents is that we have been shaped by common ideas drawn from common classics. From Michelangelo’s David to Einstein’s theory of relativity, these thinkers belong to the West. No other civilization on earth has a tradition of questioning everything, and an underlying assumption that the free exchange of ideas is the path to realize our greatest human potential.
Some may criticize Westerners for being materialistic, and altering time-honored traditions and values. There is truth in this. But, the technological and social progress of the last 200 years is greater than all of history before it, and the Great Conversation continues. You just have to decide whether you’ll be part of it.
We believe that studying The Great Conversation is a critical part of appreciating the liberties we enjoy in the West, including the protection of inalienable rights, like life, liberty, property, and the freedom of speech. A core component of a liberal arts education is an understanding of our Constitutional rights, and the most common threats to these rights.