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Losing our humanit(ies), or why we need to save the liberal arts (Pt. 2)

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

In my post-graduate year, I’ve given a lot of thought towards the importance of my degree and what it means for me career-wise, whether I choose graduate school or a dive into the (admittedly shallow) pool of available employment. I’m not going to beat the dead horse and regurgitate the many articles written about the dismal job market facing recent college graduates. The apparent impetus behind SUNY-Albany’s decision to cut its humanities departments is this: that college students should solely focus on majors that will give them jobs. I’m not saying students shouldn’t be forward-thinking in terms of what is financially beneficial, because that should fall under general personal responsibility. Let’s be honest with ourselves: the student who takes on internships and actively networks in his or her chosen field, whether Theatre or Business, is more likely to land a job than the one who expects to coast on a diploma. Back to the point: given the reasons for continuing education, SUNY-Albany’s decision seems flawed. If the only reason for going to college is to get a job, why choose college over vocational training? A friend of mine recently raised an interesting point: “I hate the way society pressures everyone to go to university and denigrates trade schools.” I think my friend made a terribly insightful comment about how American society has placed certain values on education, and I’d go so far as to say those values interfere with the importance of collective (and individual) intellect.

I’m probably preaching to the choir, but I don’t believe a person who has attended trade school to learn auto mechanics, plumbing, or masonry (again, examples!) should be treated as any less of a valuable scholar than the liberal arts graduate. So why all the hate? As if a mechanic is a second-class citizen compared to an Business major. Quite frankly, I want the person who has maintained the plane I’m flying in to have the most training possible in that field, so I don’t perish in a fiery crash due to a mechanical flaw. Et cetera.

To that end, there has been an interesting comment thread on Consumerist as to the relative importance of a degree versus on-the-job education. The post, entitled “The Best Lesson I Learned at College Was College Wasn’t Worth It” (how’s that for an incendiary headline?) posed a couple of interesting questions: are certain majors more amenable to getting a job? And at the heart of the question, why spend a bunch of money going to college if you could get a job without one? What is the point of college?

I’ll return to my earlier point of loving learning, loving school, and loving what I chose to study (even if it hasn’t made me an immediate billionaire). We all know college is expensive. Was it worth it for me? Absolutely, and not just because I gained fluency in another language, which anyone can do with enough dedication. At Agnes Scott, as is the case with the majority of liberal arts colleges, we are required to take a certain amount of what are essentially introductory courses, ones that mostly fall outside of our respective majors. This is a point of contention for many students, who run the spectrum from overwhelmed first years to seniors trying to graduate on time. The complaint is not a new one; during my sophomore year, I even wrote an opinion piece in our newspaper, the Profile, decrying our distributional requirement rule in favor of more modified structures like Smith’s or Vassar’s. But senior year made me change my tune, and a year away from academia reinforced my belief that the system works.

Full disclosure time: I have never been interested in maths or sciences. When I was younger, I came up with all sorts of excuses for that disinterest, but after the bellyaching, I was forced to see that it was my attitude, not my aptitude that left me avoiding those areas like the plague.* Anyway, the point: a liberal arts education enables a student to become well-rounded. How well-rounded could I be if, for example, I never took Astronomy with the brilliant (and hilarious) Dr. Amy Lovell? Would I have become a French major without the demands of meeting a language requirement? Without French 202, would I have taken the opportunity to study in France for a year — relatively inexpensively, thanks to ASC’s affiliation with ISEP —  with the necessary communicative skills to do more than just get by in the pharmacy? (Answer: maybe, but probably not.) Perhaps because of those two introductory requirements, I can nerd out about the Doppler Effect, turn around and read a French novel in about the same time as its English equivalent. There are plenty of astrophysicists and polyglots who can professionally exalt the academic importance of the two fields. It’s not just cocktail party conversation, y’all!

Though if anyone wants to invite me to a cocktail party wherein I get to put those learned skills to use, do let me know.

*Author’s Note — with catchphrases like “attitude, not aptitude,” I should be a motivational speaker. Goooo Bayside!

(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 explains why 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. 2)

  1. Did the liberal arts get me well-rounded? Well, in at least one way it did, thanks to the atrocious meal plans.

    Posted by Anonymous | November 18, 2010, 4:34 pm


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

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