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Liberal Arts Education, Reflection

Losing our humanit(ies), or why we need to save the liberal arts (Pt. 1)

(This post is the first in a three-part series of Why the Liberal Arts Are Important.)

Who will you become? Martianus Capella, perhaps?

There has been plenty of media hullabaloo as of late as to various colleges and universities across the country drastically reducing their humanities departments, and it’s ruffled my feathers. Perhaps the most startling example is that of SUNY-Albany, which has decided to eliminate major, minor, and graduate programs in languages other than Spanish (i.e., French, German, and Russian), classics, and theatre. With the decision to cut these departments, SUNY-Albany seems to imply that language study is not “important” enough to merit full academic concentration — more to the point, that scholars choosing to specialize in these fields, and their subsequent work, are considered secondary to more “lucrative” majors (i.e., those that haven’t been cut). As a recent recipient of a French degree, and whole-hearted advocate for a liberal arts education, this is news that makes me worry. And hurts my feelings!

I may be in the naïve minority, but I did not choose my major (or my institute of higher learning) based on the illusion of guaranteed post-graduation employment. I’m not quite that naïve. Like many of my cohorts, I chose to attend a liberal arts college because — and here’s the shocker — I enjoy learning for the sake of learning, and wanted to get the most well-rounded education available to me. So before I reveal the connective thread of my obsession between the liberal arts and my position helping the campus community cultivate e-Portfolios, I’d like to spend a moment pontificating on the indisputable importance of a liberal arts education, and what risky business it could be for colleges to abandon the fundamental reasons for such an education.

I think there are two general reasons to continue education after high school: the first, to improve the quality of both analytical and abstract thinking; the second, to cultivate individual talents and skills that might prove valuable in adulthood. Both are excellent reasons to pursue a liberal arts degree, and the latter does not exclude a nuanced argument for vocational or technical schooling. I would like to meet the person who argues that post-secondary education is not integral for at least the aforementioned reasons; additionally, I am uncomfortable with the idea that some bachelor’s degrees are qualitatively “worth” more than others, that somehow I am less of a scholar because I chose French over Computer Science. Note that I said qualitative, not quantitative. I am under no delusion that my B.A. in French is more immediately marketable in today’s workforce than a CS  degree (which, before anyone gets upset, I am using as an example, not the rule). My liberal arts degree does more than simply enables me to be a product, however, it forces me to think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of my time. Apologies for the shameless ASC plug, but it’s true. In what working environment is a graduate who can demonstrate connective, reasonable thinking across disciplines not valuable?

(In the hope that you’ll continue to read my screed, I’ve decided to spread out my posts on this subject. Stay tuned for my next post, which tackles liberal arts v. vocational training, and then, how creating an e-Portfolio could be the best use of your LA education! Also, please comment if you disagree with any of my points or just want to write me [c/o the liberal arts] a love letter.)


About Emily

I read! I write! I stand! I sit.


4 thoughts on “Losing our humanit(ies), or why we need to save the liberal arts (Pt. 1)

  1. I love this. I’ve talked to my dad a lot about the difference between a liberal arts education where you learn a bunch of different subjects and do broad but deep analyzing, synthesizing and interpreting instead of using college as a vocational school. I feel confident that I could work in a lot of different fields because I’ve learned how to figure stuff out myself instead of just memorizing information.

    Posted by anne | November 17, 2010, 9:00 pm
    • Yeah! My take is this: if you’re attending a liberal arts college because you think it’s going to land you the golden job without much effort past class attendance, you are deluded and should probably take some time away from school to get a grasp on reality. Which is not to say that everyone needs to know what they want upon entering college, but college (PARTICULARLY private colleges) is awfully expensive wandering grounds.
      Above all, I really hate when I hear people say, “Oh, you majored in [this liberal arts major], what are you going to do with that?” Being a literature major means you can do more than just read a book. Just like being a math major means you are capable of a lot more than long division.
      The topic I don’t know much about but would be an interesting contribution to the argument of LACs vs. trade schools would be those students pursuing BFAs. Those are highly specialized and geared towards post-grad placement, but it doesn’t seem like they get a whole lot of respect. Huh.

      Posted by Emily | November 18, 2010, 7:17 pm
  2. This is something I think about a lot, too, as an English major. There are whole Broadway musicals about how useless an English degree is, and everyone and their brother is urging me not to apply to graduate school. However, I feel that my English degree and writing center work made me an excellent writer and communicator; it gives me skills in working with all sorts of people and the capacity to really interrogate all kinds of texts. I am taking these news articles and blog posts about the demise of the liberal arts with a grain of salt and a chip on my shoulder.

    Posted by Neil | November 19, 2010, 12:42 pm


  1. Pingback: Imagining the e-Portfolio: Institutional Differences. « Crafting the Digital Design Fellowship - February 17, 2011

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