Michael S. Roth


On his book Memory, Trauma, and History: Essays on Living with the Past

Cover Interview of November 13, 2011


At the close of the book’s introduction, I write the following about liberal education:

Education should help us have access to moods that open our eyes and ears. Education at its best teaches us to take the world’s sights and sounds to animate our own and perhaps someone else’s imagination. At its best, education develops the capacities for seeing possibilities in the world and for relishing the world around us across borders we might not have dared cross before. Education must lead us beyond these borders if it is to be more than training to assume a position that has already been allocated for us.

A reflexive, pragmatic education would enhance our capacities for freedom because it would help us to experience the world and understand ourselves without excessive dependence on unquestioned authority. There is no formula for determining how much dependence is appropriate, just as there are no firm criteria for determining how we should live with the past.

The liberal learning I envision helps us live with the past without being dominated by it, while opening the possibility of sharing our lives with others. This is education for freedom, at least the kind of freedom available to us when we acknowledge that we also live with the past.