Sunday, December 30, 2012

Liberal Arts Colleges Struggle Amidst STEM and Business Push

Justin Pope of the Associate Press explores the challenges faced by the traditional liberal arts colleges that were once the heart and soul of higher education.  The liberal arts have been the target of contemptuous attacks in recent years as the American economy struggles to produce enough scientists, engineers, doctors, accountants, and technicians to prop up an economy that has become more efficient and, often, outsourced.  The myopic focus on STEM majors - and even STEM high schools - has led to claims by simple-minded business types who argue that the whole purpose of education is to prepare students to become effective workers in the marketplace.  And that Dickensian proposition is just sad.

The liberal arts - and notably liberal arts colleges - have been the foundation of our cultural soul for as long as we've been civilized societies.  Accounting and engineering may be the basis of the comfortable nature of our lives, but it is the arts and the deep thinking that makes those lives worth living.  And the success of corporations like Apple - a company which effectively markets its products via a focus on empathy and design - has depended on visionaries like Steve Jobs looking beyond simple market practicality.  Jobs wanted his products to feed our souls, even as it filled his bank account.  And it's the liberal arts that contribute to make humanity the focus of our business.

It will be a sad day if the liberal arts college goes the way of the typewriter.

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