The liberal arts are the general linguistic and mathematical skills that enable a person to excel in every academic area—as well as in the practical activities of life. In classical and medieval times, there were thought to be seven of these arts or skills: grammar, logic, and rhetoric (the “trivium”), as well as arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music (the “quadrivium”). The first three were linguistic arts, and the last four were mathematical. We would probably say today that there are more than just the four mathematic skills worthy of mastery, but the liberal arts remain the greatest summary of skills an educated person should know.
Through the study of the greatest that has been thought and said by Western writers and thinkers, we pass our cultural heritage on to our children. Western civilization is made up of three elements: the Greeks, the Romans, and the Hebrews—and the coalescing of these three cultures into what later became known as Christendom, the Christian civilization that remained the dominant cultural force in the West until the early twentieth century. Familiarity with the Greeks, the Romans, and, most importantly, the Christian Bible is essential to understanding our culture.
The liberal arts are the “how” of education, and the study of Western culture is the “what.” A mastery of both of these is the best way to prepare a child, not only for college, but for life.