In a little more than one month, classes for the 2016-17 school year will begin on college campuses around the country, including here in our home state on the campuses of the University of Hawaii and its community colleges.

That pending beginning of another academic year provides an opportunity to consider the importance of liberal arts education in a society where its benefits are sorely needed. A liberal arts education prepares students for life — not only for their own lives but also for the life of the community.

Specifically, a liberal arts education prepares students to become responsible citizens in our democratic society. It provides students with a broad base of knowledge along with honing their critical thinking and communication skills, teaching them the importance of working toward common goals and developing a love for life-long learning.

16 may 2015. photograph by Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Among its many benefits, a liberal arts education helps students become more broadly knowledgeable, better critical thinkers and more socially responsible.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

To become responsible citizens, students must have command of a wide range of knowledge to understand the complexities of an ever-changing world. This broad background opens their minds, allowing them to discover new perspectives while challenging their own dearly held beliefs.

By stretching their minds, students become better informed and valued citizens, who are more able to find creative solutions to old problems. A democratic society does not need individuals with narrow minds who cannot see beyond their unfounded opinions.

Critical thinking is a way of analyzing an issue based on evidence and reason. It helps to sort fact from fiction, logic from illogic. It enables people to think for themselves and not rely solely on the options of others. In fact, critical thinking helps a person to question and challenge “voices of authority” when facts are based on beliefs, not evidence; when logic is being misused, e.g., attacking the person instead of speaking to the issue.

By stretching their minds, students become better informed and valued citizens, who are more able to find creative solutions to old problems.

Critical thinking will also help citizens make wise decisions not only by answering important questions but also by asking crucial questions. Communication skills are important for liberal arts students and for a democratic society. An eloquent and effective oral or written presentation based on facts and common values often serves as a catalyst for positive change in the community.

The liberal arts help students develop a sense of social and personal responsibility. Through different course experiences students learn to appreciate the importance of working toward common goals and the value of caring for the community. Students begin to see beyond their own self interest and work towards the interest of the community. Responsible citizens realize the value of uniting people around commonly shared goals, not dividing them into special interest groups.

They also understand the importance of responsibility, i.e., admitting when mistakes were made rather than covering them up or passing the buck to someone else. Taking responsibility will go a long way in gaining credibility and the respect of others.

Finally, a liberal arts degree prepares students to become lifelong learners, individuals who are continually curious, asking questions and seeking answers. They are open to new ideas, able to think clearly and examine values wisely. These will be leaders who will help to define the future of their community by putting the public interest above their own.

Citizens who are life long learners will use their knowledge, skills and energy in guiding the community to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of the future. A liberal education will help keep our democracy strong and vital.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Columns generally run about 800 words (yes, they can be shorter or longer) and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.com.

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