“The Play’s the Thing”: Theater Arts and Liberal Learning

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Franson, Margaret
Higher Education Administration
article description
The recurrent disposition to view undergraduate learning as most valuable when it prepares students for specific careers by equipping them with the particular “skill sets” of their chosen occupations has led invariably to a number of unfortunate consequences. Foremost among them has been the distressing tendency to comprehend and design even music, theater, and dance activities exclusively as pre-professional training exercises. This over-reverence for technique often weakens the inherent powers of the performing arts to deepen self-knowledge, to develop the virtues most useful in the pursuit of truth, to build community, to enhance appreciation for the ways in which texts of all kinds function to make meaning and evoke feeling, and to introduce young people to the life of the mind. Honors programs can therefore perform a great educational service by restoring the performing arts, especially the theater arts, to their proper place within a collegial setting as instruments of liberal learning. The renowned Freshman Production at Valparaiso University’s honors college, Christ College, both clarifies the meaning and demonstrates the truth of the claim that the performing arts are indeed liberal arts and that they are therefore essential to a liberal education.