Department of Religious Studies

"The Gospel of the Liberal Arts," According to Howard Miller

Thu, May 19, 2011

The Gospel of the Liberal Arts

For forty years I told my students that I was an evangelist, one who proclaimed to them the “Gospel of the Liberal Arts.” And what was the “good news” I preached? Rejoice, and be exceeding glad. For you do not have to know at age 18 how you will live the rest of your life.

A liberal arts education is not intended to prepare you to make a living but to live a rich and rewarding life as a fulfilled individual and a useful citizen. It is supposed to make you reflective, creative, expansive, open to experience--and capable always of being surprised, and, very occasionally, wrong.

Resist mightily, I urged them, all who say that a decision once made may never be revisited, that a door once closed may never again be approached. For they lie, and the truth is not in them.

I took as one of my texts for my gospel a quote from the Russian philosopher Nicolai Berdyaev, who once said that the truly educated person is one who has come to appreciate fully the “variety of the human condition,” the glorious multiplicity of ways in which men and women, over the centuries and millennia, have found to be human.

I told them that a liberal arts education should prepare them not only for the challenges of life but also for those times in life when, for whatever reason--a change of jobs, a serious illness, the death of a loved one--we awake one morning and realize that we must now find a new way to live our life, must imagine another way of being human.

Well, I now find myself at one of those moments. It’s called “retirement”! I must now, it seems, practice what I preached. I must imagine a way of living without being Dr. Miller. And I know that I can do that.

For I have discovered something in the three months since I retired. My liberal arts education, which began at North Texas State College back in the sixties, has continued throughout my teaching career. Although the great majority of the thousands of students I have taught have been from The Great State, these young people brought with them to The Forty Acres an amazing kaleidoscope of the human condition.

And as I interacted with them, made myself available to the rich variety of their humanity, I was myself educated. I gave my professional life to my students. But they gave it back to me, profoundly changed. In a very real sense, they gave direction, purpose and perhaps even meaning to my life. They enlivened and enriched my life in ways that I am only now beginning to truly appreciate. Several of them are here tonight. And their presence gladdens my heart. And so, tonight, to them, my students, and to all of you, I say from the foundations of my being, and for the last time, many thanks to one and all from Dr. Miller.

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