A Liberal Education: The Eyes and Ears of a Society

David Brooks, an op-ed writer for the New York Times, kicks off his article entitled, “History for Dollars” with this witty line, “When the going gets tough, the tough take accounting” (Brooks). Yet the article becomes increasingly less upbeat, as Brooks writes about the decline of the liberal arts education.

Liberal arts majors are rapidly decreasing (Brooks). Brooks argues that this trend is due to people overlooking the benefits of humanities courses, due to the of lack security when it comes time to search for a job. Especially when the global economy is in shambles, people are less likely to study the arts while other majors, which may offer more concrete job paths, which create a sense of security.

Bates College. A Liberal Arts College (Tuition $50,000+ versus an In-State Tuition) (Source)

Florida Governor Rick Scott argues that “anthropologists are not needed.” I was intrigued by how strongly people have reacted against liberal arts with the idea that people who do not study Chemistry will end up homeless. Frankly, I see this as absurdity, and I’m not alone. One reason why the statements from the Florida Governor are ironically incorrect is that there are successful anthropologists who are active in helping the business industry, including “a host of fortune 500 companies” that employ them. Seeing as the state’s football program is granted more than ten times the amount that they pay to the anthropology department, I think it is fruitless to argue that Social Science is unnecessary in a bad economy (PlosBlogs).

In the past “the line between ‘liberal arts’ and ‘vocational studies’ was not bright,”  (Ferall) argues that the great Vitruvius was quoted as a humanist, encouraging students of architecture to also study “philosophy, history and other arts” (Ferall). This was to form a balanced student with knowledge in a myriad of subjects (Ferall).

Brooks writes about the benefits of studying arts and other humanistic fields. Learning how to read and write well, becoming “familiarity with language of emotion,” helps marketing, bolstering companies and “branding” (Brooks). As well as the general ability to understand people, as we live in a “social environment,” (Brooks) where language is applicable and essencial to life. My impression from McKay was that human nature was key in humanism. I think this is similar to the idea of living in a social environment because language is all around us, and to interpret our world, and other people, we have a dire need to learn as much about it as possible. Society is dependent on text and language, without with people would not be able to communicate with one another.

John D. Blanco, a literature professor at The University of California, San Diego, comments on the subject as well. He emphasizes the importance of “[Thinking] globally, [acting] locally,” and that in order to do so, one needs a strong grasp in the following areas: “critical thinking, historical method, foreign language competency, reading analysis, communication the power of rhetorical and artistic self-expression and intellectual empathy” (Guardian Opinion). Personally, I agree.

Works Cited

Brooks, David. “History for Dollars.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News               & Multimedia. New York Times, 07 June 2010. Web. 01 Feb. 2012.             <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/08/opinion/08brooks.html?ref=davidbrooks&gt;.

McKay, John. Western Society: A Brief History. London [u.a.: Palgrave MacMillan

Ferall, Victor E. “Liberal Arts at the Brink – Victor E. Ferrall.” Google Books. Web. 08 Feb. 2012. <http://books.google.com/books?id=cJ1s33h1gRoC&gt;. Google Book

“On The Record: On the Value of a Liberal Arts Edcuation.” The Guardian. University of California, San Diego, 6 Oct. 2011. Web. 8 Feb. 2012. <http://www.ucsdguardian.org/component/k2/item/25003-on-the-record-on-the-value-of-a-liberal-arts-education&gt;.

“Top 10 Most Expensive Colleges in the World | Most Costly.” Most Costly | Most Expensive Things in the World. Web. 10 Feb. 2012. <http://www.mostcostly.com/most-expensive-colleges&gt;.

http://blogs.plos.org/neuroanthropology/2011/10/11/florida-governor-anthropology-not-needed-here/

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9 comments

  1. brianthemathematician

    This seems to be a pretty good piece of writing overall, but I do have one question. What do you mean by “the lack of security” in the humanities courses you mention?

    • janine248

      Hi Brian, thanks for taking the time to read my article. The lack of job security that I’m talking about refers to some less conventional majors, for example: Spanish, Latin, or Literature. There are most definitely jobs that these majors are applicable for; but the paths to get them are less clear. In tough times this is scary for people.

  2. katiereindeer

    How, specifically, is a liberal arts education useful? What jobs can it lead to?

    • janine248

      Hi there, thanks for your comment. Take a look at the PlosBlogs Cite that I researched. It is explained that anthropologists have helped aid chemists and biologists, not only in traditional labs but also to help solve some of the bigger issues in our society. I think this is a good example of how liberal arts degrees can be useful. Also, liberal arts degrees tend to be wide AND deep in the studies of fields, which might help some students be more prepared for all sorts of jobs in their fields, not only those most generic. I think that there are some ways that degrees other than STEM can be applicable to life. For example, the stabilizing of our educational system by added funding could make seeking a career as an educator more appealing and stable. I hope I have helped clarify my point and have answered your questions. -Janine

  3. avaz121

    Strong Opinions reflected through your research. It is a good article.
    I personally agree that literary and historical thinking is important for people to live in the society and to communicate with it. But in reality, when we have to choose a career, income and stability become the primary concern to the most of us. It is because when we try to value the direct benefit to our lives, STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) seems more appealing than liberal art, not only because STEM brings financial security, but also because it is much more approachable and tractable.

    • janine248

      Hi there, thanks for your response to my article about liberal arts. I do see your point, that generally job stability is associated with degrees in STEM fields. However, I encourage you to read the source which I cited, PlosBlog, because a letter which was written by the Chair of the Department of Anthropology written addressing Rick Scott, explains that even though some people associate Anthropology (the study and science of humans) as being a “soft science,” anthropologists are doing remarkable work to help Chemists and Biologists all over the world, today. I think what needs to be done is the expansion of STEM degrees to include some of the “softer sciences,” because it is truly not recognizing their importance. Next, I ask you to consider this, even though it is an extreme, that if every single person in the world studied, lets say Business, there would be millions of people competing for the same amount of jobs. What we need is a stable mixture of all sorts of majors, to help grow our economies and encourage growth in not only the STEM areas. I also believe that the Educational System should be stabilized by the government by more funding to make those jobs more stable. It is our faulty government that makes STEM degrees perceived as the only stable careers. Thanks for your comment!

  4. vinay1496

    Hi Janine. I really enjoyed reading your blog post. If you could combine the best aspects of a more technical education and a liberal arts education, what would you do? More specifically, after doing all this research, what would your ideal educational experience be? Thanks,

    –Vinay

  5. Hi Vinay. Thanks for your comment, I’m glad you enjoyed this article. If I could fuse more vocational studies with a humanistic approach, I would focus on a few things. I would broaden what the list of degrees that would fall under the STEM category. If you read the PlosBlog which I cited in my work, you will find that an example was given were Veterinary Medicine was not considered a STEM degree because it has been specified as a “health” degree. I think that by expanding the list of degrees, it might make employers more inclined to hire some students coming out of college with degrees in Sciences. Another example which I investigated in my research was Anthropology, which is in fact the study of humans. This is not considered a STEM either. Next, I might consider making liberal arts educations less expensive. By introducing some more “liberal arts college” ways of approaching student academic life in college in larger universities, whilst keeping costs down to a more affordable tuition, liberal arts might become more popular. For my own studies, I have been impressed by the liberal arts college’s approach to learning, a more general study of subjects that might arguably prepare one more for one’s field better, making landing a job easier. Thanks again, Vinay.

  6. vijaye

    Hi Janine,

    I really liked your blog post. I thought it was really insightful. One question I would have for you is that would you major in a science related field if you knew you would have a higher chance of receiving a job after college? I read an article in the New York Times about science majors (link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/education/edlife/why-science-majors-change-their-mind-its-just-so-darn-hard.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all). From what I understood, a lot of kids start out in science majors, but switch into other fields later, which creates the imbalance. What would you do to help fix this problem or how do you believe we can keep more of these kids in science related degrees? Again, I think you did an excellent job.

    Sincerely,
    Vijay

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