Monday, April 8, 2013
In Defense of Liberal Arts - It's Not All About Jobs Skills
In the push for all things STEM in order to keep America competitive and provide jobs, many small minded education critics have been down on the liberal arts to the point of declaring the study of literature, art, philosophy, and culture "useless" if if doesn't "help someone find a job." The latest politician to rant about this is North Carolina governor Pat McCrory who whined to Bill Bennett - a Ph.D. in philosophy - that "If you want to take gender studies that’s fine, go to a private school and take it. But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.” Basically, McCrory is making economics and finance the end-all-be-all of any educational venture - at least one funded in part by taxes.
This myopic view of education seems to align with the rampant anti-intellectualism that's becoming common among the financial elite - and which it should be said aligns mostly with the Republican Party. The other side of the argument is the validity of the liberal arts and education beyond just jobs skills, and that point is well made by Meghan Florian in a piece for The Chronicle titled Notes From an Employed Philosopher. Florian turns the tables of McCrory who called out the "academic elites" by rightfully accusing him of being an economic elite. For, in one reading of McCrory's narrow world, rich (white) kids get to pursue a liberal arts education at private school, while poor kids turn to the trades.
The argument is, of course, more complicated than that. Nonetheless, Florian's point is well made. And McGrory could learn a little from the liberal arts, as well as from people like Daniel Pink who argues for a more right brain creative world in his groundbreaking book A Whole New Mind. In reality, it's not just about basic job skills of math, science, and welding. It's about growth as human beings.