Liber, latin for freedom, is the root of liberal arts – originally, the studies in classical antiquity that were deemed essential for a free person to master in order to distinguish themselves from slaves.
A Roman free person is one who participates in a democracy, and is therefore expected to be well-informed about the world in which they share control and responsibility. Notably, the classical liberal arts – grammer, logic and rhetoric – were not studies aimed at accumulating content, but aimed at how to engage with knowledge itself. A free person is one who knows how to read the world intelligently, critically reflect and communicate skillfully.
A liberal arts education – once the backbone of American public education and now an endangered species – is about learning for the sake of learning, imparting knowledge and developing intellectual capacities without aim of financial reward or vocational purpose.
Yet the liberal arts are intimately entwined with class and privilege, and share this with another approach to education – education as a credentialing system.