A liberal arts education demands that you gain skill and experience in critical thinking, self-reflection, designing projects of discovery and creation, encountering difference, exchanging ideas, and developing ethical judgment. By offering an education in the liberal arts, Grinnell College endorses life-long learning characterized by sustained intellectual curiosity and an open mind for assessing the unfamiliar. At the same time, by using critical thinking to assess evidence, to identify assumptions, to test logic, to reason correctly, and to take responsibility for the conclusions and actions that result, a student of the liberal arts can grows ethically as well as intellectually. A liberally educated person should be capable of principled judgment, seeking to understand the origins, context, and implications of one's knowledge and judgment. Because knowledge is lost if it is not shared, both students and teachers of the liberal arts strive to engage in precise and graceful communication. This communication takes place verbally, but also in other ways, such as the symbolic and expressive systems of mathematics, music, computer languages, the natural sciences, and the visual and performing arts. By learning and exploring these methods, one may attain an understanding of aspects of human thought, which is a crucial part of liberal education. What should the liberally educated person know? While each discipline in a liberal arts curriculum has its own rationale and purpose, the heterogeneity of good critical thinking and the free exchange of ideas militate against any single answer to this question. As each student works to create an academic plan that is appropriate to his or her interests, talents, and goals as a person accountable to a life shared with others. Grinnell's Curriculum Committee recommends that all students should have some work in the following:
- writing and literary studies;
- a non-native language;
- scientific studies based on experimental observation;
- human society past and present; and
- fine arts, with attention to both creative and analytical methods.
Another way to think about liberal arts education is to inquire about its purpose:
- to encourage intellectual and aesthetic curiosity;
- to promote confident and accurate verbal expression;
- to foster the ability to work both independently and collaboratively;
- to examine critically one's own traditions and assumptions; to understand in depth at least one culture that is very different from one's own;
- to approach complex problems from a variety of analytical perspectives; and
- to realize obligations and capabilities to serve the common good.