Narratives for Liberal Education

Book learning alone might be got by lectures and reading; but it is was only by studying and disputing, eating and drinking, playing and praying as members of the same collegiate community, in close and constant association with each other and with their tutors, that the priceless gift of character could be imparted.-

Samuel Eliot Morison, Historian of Harvard

FAREED ZAKARIA’S book – In defense of Liberal education starts with the India of the 70s , in which he speaks about the conditions of education, touchingly takes one back to the episodes of “I love Lucy”. The section describing his brother Arshad’s efforts is the most interesting, with the touch of a Personal essay, rather than just quoting data from studies. Throughout this well researched book, the parts which appealed most were those about his own personal experiences, the ideas and events which shaped him. He has also added perspective to many other thinkers on education.

DEFINITION Liberal education is defined as a philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and a stronger sense of values, ethics, and civic engagement … characterised by challenging encounters with important issues, and more a way of studying than a specific course or field of study

Suggested further reading

It is seen as divergent from Technical education which is oriented for Job market.

In 1852, Cardinal Newman wrote that a student of liberal education “apprehends the great outlines of knowledge for its own sake rather than to acquire skills to practice a trade or do a job.


July 9, (2015) will be ten years since the passing away of Rafiq Zakaria whose mausoleum is in Maulana Azad college in Aurangabad. Maulana Azad College of Arts and Science was founded in 1963 by Dr.Rafiq Zakaria, who formed a trust called Maulana Azad Education Society to manage the affairs. The College is affiliated to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University of Aurangabad.

In the 17th Century Peer Ismail Shah a Sufi and tutor of the Mughal prince Aurangazeb laid the foundation stone of a Madarassa at Rauza Bagh Aurangabad where children of noble lineage were to be taught Arabic and Persian. The Madarassa, which later became the mausoleum of its founder fell into the hands of British and was ruined. The mansion, which is a fine blend of Mughal style architecture interlaid with Pathan features, was deteriorating. It caught the eye of Dr.Rafiq Zakaria the scholar-politician, who was making rounds of the Aurangabad constituency during the 1962 Assembly Elections.

He set about the task of restoring the Madrassa. Moved by the extreme poverty and backwardness of the people of the region, Dr.Rafiq Zakaria created the Maulana Azad Education Society’s campus at Rauza Bagh.

He got his friend Ibrahim Kadri to design open-air stadium, college buildings and a hostel for students in what had once been a deserted place belonging to the Nizam of Hyderabad. His efforts in education helped uplift his community. His mother Fatma was the editor of the Taj magazine of the Taj Hotels.


The second chapter on the evolution of history of Liberal education, takes us through some of the major debates and histories of evolution of the education system. It brings us close to the ideas of Emerson- the task of every human being was to find his or her voice and give expression to itself. “Trust thyself” Emerson wrote in “Self-Reliance.”

“Every heart vibrates to that iron string.”

Zakaria writes that the crucial challenge is to learn how to read critically, analyze data, and formulate ideas- and most of all to enjoy the intellectual adventure enough to be able to do them easily and often.

Here are some of the people-institutions whose ideas can help us understand the concept of Liberation Education – It teaches us how to think.


Yale medical students have a course which Dr. Braverman and Linda Friedlaender, curator of education at the Yale Center for British Art, developed to improve students’ diagnostic and observational skills at an early stage in their medical training.

Students are asked to observe four paintings for about 15 minutes at a time and then, one by one, describe what they see in great detail. Dr. Braverman said the course grew out of his own observations over his 50-year career as a dermatologist that many doctors depend too much on the latest technological advances, like magnetic resonance imaging and CT scans, forgoing the old-fashioned skill of simply looking at a patient


On being asked whether he knows about Ibn Khaldun, one of the founding fathers of Sociology, one of our Reading group members commented that the region which has become Libya was not described in very favorable terms by this writer.

However, discussion on Liberal education made us look at some of the architecture in this region in closer detail. Tripoli region has historic hotels which have served travelers from the Sahara over the centuries. Two books which we discussed were- the travels of John and the architecture of Zliten region.

Then we went through some architecture of Ottoman and Italian times For paintings, our group discussed the paintings of Tagore, Company school, Modern period which have been collected in National Gallery of Modern Art –Jaipur House India and also paintings of Caravagisti of Museum of Fine Arts-Malta. Though not a formal program as developed in Yale, we do have four regular parts of discussion –

History of medicine

This week we discussed the Landmark in Epidemiology and Germ Theory-1854 investigation of Cholera epidemic in Soho by John Snow –

Everyday history of Medical community

Theme of Insurance being misused by certain private players came up (again). We discussed the institutional and monumental spirit in which some persons worked to treat and rehabilitate spinal injured patients. I spoke of my formative experiences of having worked with such dedicated professionals in Indian spinal Injuries centre-Delhi in 1990s, and the work of likes of Air Marshal Chahal who has been treating such patients right from 1960s. –

Architecture in this region

The architecture and planning of medical institutions, and monuments such as the Cathedral of Tripoli, which has now been converted into a church, the San Francisco church of Dahra came up Architecture, landscaping in North Africa goes back to millennia. One group member showed photographs of Leptis Magna, the birth place of Roman emperor Septimus Severus –

Paintings-sculptures-art works Part of the Museum societies.

Reading group

The art of Reading, appreciation of major works of literature made us look at characters created by Shakespeare in a different way. Characters such as Falstaff and Shylock transcend the confines of their play and speak to conscious beings across the centuries. Falstaff represents the tavern life, Shylock represents many prejudices and social norms.


Fareed Zakaria’s book is thought provoking and will serve as a good reference point to anyone interested in education.

In medical sciences , there is lot of specialization, stress of work. We also have to keep up with the latest scientific developments and juggle legal,insurance, registration, malpractice claim issues.

These tend to wear us away from the human touch which is essential to healing.

By consciously keeping some time aside to develop this agenda, we will add a useful dimension to our practices.


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