Congressman Rush Holt visited the campus to speak about the significance of the liberal arts in education last Tuesday, April 10.
Holt, who has an extensive education in physics, described the importance of promoting education in all fields, not just the sciences.
“I’ve spent most of my life breaking down, or at least blurring, the boundaries between disciplines,” Holt said.
Holt, a Democrat serving his seventh term representing N.J.’s 12th district (which the College is a part of), has long been a proponent of the liberal arts in Congress.
One focus of his lecture was to counter those who don’t believe the public sector should be involved in supporting the arts. He characterized this as a “short-sighted” view that will weaken the foundations of our country.
By describing humanities as essential to understanding our society, Holt extended his argument for liberal arts education to its effects on the government.
“If people stop believing that we can govern ourselves, we can’t,” Holt said. “This country was founded on the liberal arts, and the prosperity followed.”
Openness to criticism seemed to be a main part of Holt’s philosophy.
“What we think we know should be open to questioning,” Holt said. “The idea of examination is something we inherited from our founders.”
The congressman harped back to the ideology of the founders in general, and Thomas Jefferson in particular, a number of times in advocating for an increased investment in the liberal arts aspect of education.
By highlighting the way the nation’s founders displayed interdisciplinary knowledge, Holt was able to build a strong contrast with the current trend of the discussion of education policy in Congress.
“As bad as No Child Left Behind has been, it would be much worse if new curriculum from Congress passed,” Holt said. “We are at some risk of strangling the arts.”
This forum was the initiative of English professor Diane Steinberg, who invited Holt here on behalf of Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society. Steinberg valued the perspective that Holt brings to congress.
“Representative Holt is one of the few Congressmen who has been an educator (he worked at Princeton University), so his stance on a liberal education has been informed by his previous career.” Steinberg said.