[P]erhaps the best starting point for getting a hold of its purpose is the adjective in the term liberal education. “Liberal” tells us that the education was originally held to be education that becomes a free human being, a liber, rather than a slave (i.e., a human being with the potential for sufficient virtues of mind and heart to rule himself or herself within a society of like-minded human beings). It is an education aimed at developing the human potential to be free—to be not in need, as slaves were thought to be, of being commanded and watched over and reminded of the fearful consequence of doing what a master forbids. It is an education becoming, then, a full human being, and therefore choice-worthy as an end in itself. It is a high or noble common enterprise that can fulfill one’s distinctively human potential, regardless of how useful it might be for other things. Liberal education so understood is emphatically not career, or job, or professional training, in which you learn things useful for something else—information or “theories” that you will apply later. For this reason, classes in preprofessional programs to this day do not count toward Phi Beta Kappa credits. In fact, to think of liberal education as a means and not an end in itself is like encouraging someone to study violin so that she can have limber fingers. It is to mistake a very real effect of liberal education for its purpose.
Liberal education is likewise emphatically not a political indoctrination, an education in how to be a liberal or a conservative.