The death of liberal arts education

The field of liberal arts education is constantly being threatened by budget cuts and a general lack of support. It should, however, be a priority rather than a go-to for program cuts.

Illustration by Bryan Gomm/UVU Review

By Megan Flox-Lambert
Opinions Writer

People once valued a wellrounded education. Humanities, philosophy, fine arts and social sciences were the keys to understanding one another and the means by which more technical disciplines were able to be nurtured, developed and furthered.

But in recent times, there has been a dramatic shift in the valuation of the liberal arts education. The more fiscally obsessed American society becomes, the more higher education is merely valued in terms of what it is worth, how much money can be earned by attaining it and how soon it can be obtained.

Utah’s own Senator Howard Stephenson (R-Draper) believes that degrees in the realm of liberal arts “lead to nowhere.” Such a dangerous attitude is not only sad, it is tragic.

This does not mean that technical degrees and vocational training are not vitally important. It means that as a society and as a progressing culture, there is an obligation to make available to everyone an
education that provides practical skill in conjunction with an elemental understanding of the human condition.

The world would be barren if the social sciences, humanities, philosophy and art were no longer a part of the educational dialogue. How much could medical professionals accomplish if they did not understand the emotional components of the human existence? How ineffective would economists be if they did not understand the fundamentals of human behavior? How impactful would the construction
trades be if there were no visionary fine arts-trained architects drawing up the plans?

Studies show a consistent pattern that students trained in a wider spectrum of disciplines function better in their chosen careers and perform better academically than those who have a narrower focus.

For example, one undergraduate program in particular consistently enables students to score highest on intensely logical law school entrance exams: students who major in Philosophy. The analytical, critical and logical training involved in attaining undergraduate degrees in liberal arts subjects provide a unique kind of skill development that enables deep, powerful understanding of many of the most vital societal structures: medicine, law, teaching and more.

There is a dire problem with those, like Senator Stephenson, who wish to siphon funding away from four-year institutions in favor of more “bankable” technical schools. The very things that define being human are embracing curiosity, having the ability to be emotional while seeking the meaning of those emotions and perpetually working to obtain wisdom. If these kinds of opportunities are removed from higher education, all the traits that make people able to be dynamic culturally and as a species are fundamentally violated.

Education has inherent, innate value and assigning it mere monetary value is insulting. Education’s efficacy cannot, and should not, be measured in pie-charts and diagrams or viewed as items on a budget waiting to be slashed.

Make no mistake, if citizens and students let legislators determine what should be learned based only on what can be gained monetarily, it will not only mean the death of the liberal arts education, but it will mean the death of everything that has made the United States innovative, collaborative and revolutionarily different.

2 Responses to "The death of liberal arts education"

  1. Tom   March 22, 2011 at 11:04 am

    The author misrepresents Senator Stephenson’s position. Stephenson argues that liberal arts degrees are frequently “degrees to nowhere” if the student is NOT INFORMED. He even stated at the legislature that he is supportive of SUU’s mission of being a liberal arts institution. He himself has a liberal arts degree.

    This article is an example of sloppy journalism. The author fails to see the big picture, and instead, takes a short comment made by Senator Stephenson out of context.

    Reply
  2. puzzled   May 27, 2016 at 11:10 pm

    Seriously Tom?

    The author’s position is crystal clear, and so is Stephenson’s if you read the primary source. It wasn’t
    “sloppy journalism.” Also, for those of us in higher ed, in 2016, the writing is on the wall for liberal arts education.The current trend is for business leaders to prescribe what’s best for education–and it’s NOT the arts. After all, get those students in and through tor their degree and let them make that cash.

    Enrichment? Enschmitment . . .give ’em a break. Liberal arts? Are you kidding me? Who the fuck cares what the Visigoth’s influence was on the Middle Age’s trade and architecture (even though it informs capitalistic business practices and informs why we have certain value systems)?

    Tom, your knee-jerk reaction to a well-reasoned article would indicate that you have trouble grasping a well-reasoned argument which would warrant your need to study Plato and Aristotle, masters of critical thinking and logic. Did you go to college and have any Humaniities courses? Never mind; I apologize. I’m sure if you did, they were useless. If not, you will probably say you they weren’t important. Of course, who cares? What difference does it make?

    I care because I teach, and I know it’s not all about passing tests. Learning isn’t a numbers game; It’s a complex, qualitative endeavor. STEM classes are important, but so are the liberal arts which show us who we are, why we are, and how we got here. It’s all connected; Only an ignorant person would prioritize or denigrate any of this. But ignorance rules . . . so rock on, Tom.

    Reply

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