Skip to comments.In Defense of the Liberal Arts
Posted on 12/16/2010 4:52:16 AM PST by Kaslin
The liberal arts face a perfect storm. The economy is struggling with obscenely high unemployment and is mired in massive federal and state deficits. Budget-cutting won't spare education.
The public is already angry over fraud, waste and incompetence in our schools and universities. And in these tough times, taxpayers rightly question everything about traditional education -- from teacher unions and faculty tenure to the secrecy of university admissions policies and which courses really need to be taught.
Opportunistic private trade schools have sprouted in every community, offering online certification in practical skills without the frills and costs of so-called liberal arts "electives."
In response to these challenges, the therapeutic academic Left proved often incapable of defending the traditional liberal arts. After three decades of defining the study of literature and history as too often a melodrama of race, class and gender oppression, it managed to turn off much of the college audience and the general reading public. And cheek by jowl, the utilitarian Right succeeded in reclassifying business and finance not just as undergraduate university majors, but also core elements in general education requirements.
In such a climate, it is natural that once again we are hearing talk of cutting the "non-essentials" in our colleges such as Latin, Renaissance history, Shakespeare, Plato, Rembrandt and Chopin. Why do we cling to the arts and humanities in a high-tech world in which we have instant recall at our fingertips through a Google search and such studies do not guarantee sure 21st-century careers?
But the liberal arts train students to write, think and argue inductively, while drawing upon evidence from a shared body of knowledge. Without that foundation, it is harder to make -- or demand from others -- logical, informed decisions about managing our supercharged society as it speeds on by.
Citizens -- shocked and awed by technological change -- become overwhelmed by the Internet, cable news, talk radio, video games and popular culture of the moment. Without links to our past heritage, we in ignorance begin to think our own modern challenges -- the war in Afghanistan, gay marriage, cloning or massive deficits -- are unique and don't raise issues comparable to those dealt with and solved in the past.
And without citizens broadly informed by humanities, we descend into a pyramidal society. A tiny technocratic elite on top crafts everything from cell phones and search engines to foreign policy and economic strategy. A growing mass below lacks understanding of the present complexity and the basic skills to question what they are told.
During the 1960s and 1970s, committed liberals thought we could short-circuit the process of liberal education by creating advocacy classes with the suffix "studies." Black studies, Chicano studies, community studies, environmental studies, leisure studies, peace studies, woman's studies and hundreds more were designed to turn out more socially responsible youths. Instead, universities too often graduated zealous advocates who lacked the broadly educated means to achieve their predetermined politicized ends.
On the other hand, pragmatists argued that our future CEOs needed to learn spread sheets at 20 rather than why Homer's Achilles does not receive the honors he deserved, or how civilization was lost in fifth-century Rome and 1930s Germany. Yet Latin or a course in rhetoric might better teach a would-be captain of industry how to dazzle his audience than a class in Microsoft PowerPoint.
The more instantaneous our technology, the more we are losing the ability to communicate with it. Twitter and text-messaging result in an economy of expression, not in clarity or beauty. Millions are becoming premodern -- communicating in electronic grunts that substitute for the ability to express themselves effectively and with dignity. Indeed, by inventing new abbreviations and linguistic shortcuts, we are losing a shared written language altogether, much like the fragmentation of Latin as the Roman Empire imploded into tribal provinces. No wonder the public is drawn to stories like "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" in which characters speak beautifully and believe in age-old values that transcend themselves.
Life is not just acquisition and consumption. Engaging English prose uplifts the spirit in a way Twittering cannot. The latest anti-Christ video shown at the National Portrait Gallery by the Smithsonian will fade when the Delphic Charioteer or Michelangelo's David does not. Appreciation of the history of great art and music fortifies the soul, and recognizes beauty that does not fade with the passing fad.
America has lots of problems. A population immersed in and informed by literature, history, art and music is not one of them.
BA in English/Classics, minor in French.
MA in Latin - emphasis in Late Republic, early Empirical poetry.
Super-size that for you?
Just this semester it has become clear to me that even very bright students increasingly do not know how to use books and don’t give a damn that they don’t know how. They view the Internet as the Reality rather than as a message board on which materials that exist in reality are posted virtually. They have no concept that a book exists out there, was written, edited, translated, published by someone. They find it on the Internet and cite to the Internet as the reality of this piece of data.
They have no concept of the blood, sweat, tears that went into transcribing, editing, translating that work. To them it’s just one of billions of items in ether. They confuse a convenient medium for disseminating data with the data themselves.
Increasingly they have no concept of time-consuming, careful writing and crafting of communication. They view information as instantaneous.
But it’s not, at least not all of it. The more ephemeral produced-for-Internet stuff, yes. But they have little idea that much of what pops up in a Google search has a life of its own, sometimes a life of thousands of years, and that being carried on the Internet is just a mask, just the latest in millennia of media for transmitting information.
Am I wrong to think that the inability to distinguish the virtual from the real is a real loss to intelligent living?
BA English Comp, minor in psych here.
Working on MA in Technical Communication.
I have a well-paying, non-management job, no debt, a house, a paid-for car, and I am working on getting married.
Liberal arts degrees are not occupational death sentences. I am an engineer with no engineering education, and I run circles around the engineers with degrees in engineering.
Hard science and math degrees only mean you can manipulate numbers. Writing and communication is infinitely more important to an employer. I learned all of my engineering skills on the job and through reading.
Liberal arts education is important, but not as a major, unless, of course. one intends to teach liberal arts courses in college.
Advocacy courses - black studies, women’s studies, etc, should be dropped.
When I was in college, back in the stone age, I had to take courses in Western Civ, English, Literature, econ, political science, sociology, psych, in addition to those in my major. I’ve not been sorry to have gained those insights.
The concept of a university education was that it acquainted its bearer with the UNIVERSE of human ideas, not just a narrow sampling of trade crafts. In an increasingly illiterate society, we need MORE time in the arts and humanities, not less.
My oldest daughter got a pure Liberal Arts degree at Thomas More College in New Hampshire and went from that to an LSU MBA. The education at TM was superb. She got intense Western Civ and the Founders, philosophical and political, of the Republic and of Christianity. She got the best of English Literature and of History and learned Greek(Latin, too but she had already got that in HS). She had a fine grounding in the roots of the Republic and our Culture and Nation. She was ready for anything and had a very successful, if short, career as a businesswoman, and she had no illusions about what governments can do for people and economies.
Most schools that offer Liberal Arts degrees have only a very debased and politically correct notion of what constitutes Liberal Arts and confuse the “Liberal” in Liberal Arts with Liberal politics and cultural manias. There are schools who do the job properly as it was once done and a graduate will be prepared for most anything with a LA degree from any of several small private Catholic colleges like Thomas More and Thomas Aquinas. You can’t go wrong at Hillsdale either. There are more such places, some Protestant ones, too. Somewhere there is a list with descriptions of good real Liberal Arts schools. Most of them are less expensive than the Ivy League or even most of the State Us.
Back in that stone age was when colleges were about Education and the roots of civilization. Now most of them are, as are the antecedent public schools, about Revolution and Collectivism and Political Correctness.
Excellent points. I still wonder what many think they are going to do with that degree or if they even have a plan.
True, if you can comprehend the numbers you manipulate.
And now they're running the country. (Do I gotta name names?)
Most universities have general education requirements that apply to all majors. The problem with liberal arts is that the colleges have done a poor job marketing their product and, in many cases, have been taken over by activists. Students don’t want to spend four years being lectured by aging hipsters who still talk about Woodstock or the day they burned their draft cards.
Attitudes have also changed. In the past, college was the place for a young man or woman to “find himself while broadening his horizons”. After four years, they go to law school, med school, MBA or other education.
Today, students enter college with the goal of getting a degree that will land them a well paying job upon graduation. Henry V is nice, but neither the play nor the king will go as far as top skills in PowerPoint and Photoshop when applying for the entry level position at an marketing agency.
Send your kids to K12 schools that offer a rigorous classical curriculum. They’re popping up all over the country, usually as charters. Parents want this for their kids. They are tired of progressive indoctrination masquerading as education.
I learned how to think and communicate in college. How to work, I learned by doing the work.
I could have done much worse.
Drop all of the hyphenated crap majors and supply a traditional Euro-centric liberal arts curriculum supplemented by technology and personal finance. A few courses on entrepreneurship and required Constitutional study and everything is solved . . .
A course in liberal irony should complete the experience!
I love the idea of a true liberal arts education. At West Point as an engineering student, I was required to also study history, a foreign language, law, economics, and political science. Conversely, my roommates majoring in Arabic or history were required to take physics and engineering.
Yet I also believe that our society overrates college and undervalues trade schools. College is not the right fit for everyone.
But we need to rescue the "softer subjects" from the domination of Marxist professors who teach crap instead of teaching students to think.
Liberal Arts were destroyed by Marxists, without a peep the media. Once noone wants to take Marxist courses, now the media complains.
How do you say "Seekers of the Red Mist" in Latin?
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