Thursday, June 17, 2010

value of a "liberal arts" education

Our administration (and faculty members) try to sell perspective students on the value of a liberal arts education. I certainly see a value, although, as I've blogged before, I'm not convinced that a liberal arts education is the only valuable undergraduate experience.

Today, one of our faculty members sent out this link to an article by David Brooks, a rather weak argument in favor of liberal arts education. Laying aside, for the moment, the confusion between "liberal arts" and "humanities", Brooks' strongest argument is that a degree in English or History will teach you to read and write. One hopes that is equally true of all fields, but I understand his point. His strangest argument is that somehow the humanities teach you about what he terms the "Big Shaggy", the inner beast in all people. Supposedly, learning about this inner beast will make you more successful. Um, OK.

We get a lot of parents and students visiting our college, and they often want to talk to faculty members about future job opportunities. Unlike many of my colleagues, I'm not offended by the question "but what would you do with that?" Obviously, if I wasn't interested in learning for the pure sake of learning, I wouldn't be an academic. On the other hand, faculty members have to face the fact that the BA has become the union card for the middle class. Trying to sell most students on the life of the mind is a lost cause, and for good reason. The life of the mind pays for sh$t. Most students aren't in school for the pure joy of learning, and that's OK. They still want an education.

Where students (and their parents) can go wrong is in thinking that the BA education should translate directly to their career. Sure, you can get a BA in anthropology and go on to have a successful career in CRM. But the truth is that most BAs in anthropology will go on to do what most BAs in all other fields do: middle management, running a small business, bureaucratic jobs, etc. We're teaching students general skills, as much as specific knowledge. To that extent, I agree with Brooks.

But there are no Big Shaggies in any of my classes.

1 comment:

  1. Education is the tool which grants us the required propel in moving ahead and doing something productive in our upcoming future.

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