But there is one HUGE, obvious problem with the way liberal education has operated for most of its history. And that, of course, is the problem of who it was for - who GOT "liberally" educated. Primarily this was a leisure class, gendered male, the sons of wealthy and privileged people who were presumed to be the "guardians" of the race.
A slave who could read, however, a female who ventured too far into the realm of theology or politics, was considered a danger not only to the status quo but also to the prevailing idea of progress, which generally assumed as an ideal the perfect performance of assigned roles in a more or less given script. If we changed the players, allowed bit players to dream of becoming leads, who knew what chaos might ensue? This was the vocal fear, and behind it was another: very simply, the increasingly desperate wish of the elite to hold onto power.
At any rate, times DID change. The fears of the more reactionary members of the Western elite were realized - and the gates of higher education began to open to women, to the middle and lower - middle classes, to non - whites, and to the poor. We began to believe - or at least to say - that the purpose of higher education was transformative: it should allow any gifted individual to rise, and to contribute in new, more powerful ways to the common good; it should allow all those who have a taste for intellectual life to participate in it, and to reap its immense personal rewards.
And THAT, in terms of access, is where we are now. The IDEA is in place. We believe that higher education should be open to all. In fact, middle class women and the middle class generally have made great strides, while the others have experienced much more modest gains.