Book Reviews

BkRev #1790. Humanity, Diversity, and the Liberal Arts:  The Foundation of a College Education. 2010. Cuseo, Joseph B., & Thompson, Aaron. Dubuque, IA. Kendal Hunt Publishing Company. 97 pp. $17.00.  ISBN:  978-0-7575-6241-9.

 

Netty Provost, Ph.D.

Department of Advising

University of Southern Maine

netty.provost@maine.edu

 

Both freshman and more experienced college students are often unsure about why they must take general education courses, particularly in the liberal arts and humanities. This is especially true if the student’s major and interests do not align with those areas of study. In such cases, students may feel disengaged and resentful of general education requirements. The authors of Humanity, Diversity, and the Liberal Arts seek to combat these attitudes by helping students understand the big picture value of a liberal arts education. 

While the book is relatively short at only three chapters, it is packed with definitions, valuable information about the structure of higher education, real life examples, and suggestions for how students can apply what they learn from the book to their future college courses. For example, the first chapter, “Liberal Arts,” explains the historical development of liberal arts education and then delves into the value of attaining a holistic understanding of the world and humanity from different points of view and disciplines. Later, the text asks students to brainstorm ways in which having such a holistic view will benefit their major and career goals.  This approach will help students connect the dots between their major and the seemingly unrelated mandatory general education courses.

A significant strength of the book is its student-centered approach.  The authors ask students to actively engage with the text through reflections, exercises, and journal entries.  Each chapter is well organized and begins with a reflection question designed to spark student interest in the topic.  Additional reflection questions are interspersed throughout each chapter.  These prompt students to consider how content from the text might apply to their own life and college experience.  For example, in chapter two, “Diversity, and Its Relationship to the Liberal Arts,” after students read a lengthy list of different prejudice types, they are asked to consider whether they, or someone they know, have experienced prejudice.  Such reflections have potential to generate meaningful discussion and guide students through analysis of how courses in diversity will enrich their college experience. 

The book’s visual organization could be a limitation for some students.  Most pages contain combinations of multiple headings, boxes, definitions lists, and quotations in the margins.  This visual clutter can be distracting or overwhelming to some students, and detract from their focus on the primary learning outcomes of the book. 

Novice advisors who seek to bolster their own understanding of the value of general education courses and diversity topics will find it helpful to read this book.  More experienced advisors will find that the book reinforces recommendations and explanations that they already discuss with students.  The book does contain some well-structured exercises that advisors could adopt when working with students.  One particularly useful exercise asks students to strategically consider which general education courses could help broaden their outlook on various social-spatial perspectives.  This prompts the student to reflect on why a course is valuable to them, beyond that it meets a requirement.

Overall, the book is more applicable to a classroom setting than working with an individual student in the advising office.  It is most relevant to courses designed to support at risk students, first generation students, undeclared students, or freshman learning community courses.  Students will get the most value from this book by being in a setting where they can discuss the text with other students.

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