Save Liberal Arts
A new movement is afoot to end liberal arts degrees and transform higher ed into trade school
By Shawn Lawrence Otto | Jun 19, 2011 | Comments (0)
Salon runs this article about the benefits of killing the liberal arts degree.
Stanley Fish wrote of this sort of triumph of small-mindedness in 2010 in an eloquent criticism of Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education, a set of recommendations made by an independent panel to the British government. It advocated “student choice” in funding higher education.
Among the report’s palliatives: “Our proposals put students at the heart of the system.” “Our recommendations… are based on giving students the ability to make an informed choice of where and what to study.” “Students are best placed to make the judgment about what they want to get from participating in higher education.”
The idea is that the money follows the students. Courses that compete successfully for student attendance survive and prosper; those that do not wither and die.
The assumptions of market economics have triumphed: Ideas are now considered commodities.
The problem is that this approach requires no judgment on the part of administrators. In fact, there is no need for them. Left in the hands of the students, there is no curating of an education to be done.
But as Fish pointed out, students are in fact not “best placed to make the judgment about what they want to get from participating in higher education.”
That is the whole point of education—to show students what they don’t already know. In other words, to help them build a telescope so they can discover their own talents and interests as scholars and human beings.
This is yet another place where the pernicious myth of the “marketplace of ideas” has corrupted Western thought. The same triumph of commoditization is plaguing much of American culture, where things that cannot be easily quantified in the marketplace or contained within preexisting software are assumed to have no value.
Applying such a commodity approach to education, just as in applying it to art or science, or classics or history, or poetry or math or love or joy, defeats the whole point of living and learning and turns universities into trade schools whose sole purpose is to supply the skills that enable one to get a job to earn money to buy things.
Our primary asset is not our money. It is the quality of our time on earth. It is a vast misunderstanding by a generation that has lost touch with—or perhaps never really knew—what education should do: open us up to wonder and the great meaning and aesthetic beauty of life.
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