In Defense of Liberal Arts

In a radio interview a few days ago, the governor or North Carolina made some….interesting comments about liberal arts education. Basically, he thinks it’s stupid and a waste of time and public colleges shouldn’t spend money on it.

“I’m a big vocational training advocate,” McCrory told Bennett. “I think some of the educational elite have taken over education, where we’re offering courses that have no chance of getting people jobs.”

Higher Ed, of course, was a bit concerned, wondering if this was the face of things to come.

McCrory’s comments on higher education echo statements made by a number of Republican governors – including those in Texas, Florida and Wisconsin – who have questioned the value of liberal arts instruction and humanities degrees at public colleges and universities. Those criticisms have started to coalesce into a potential Republican agenda on higher education, emphasizing reduced state funding, low tuition prices, vocational training, performance funding for faculty members, state funding tied to job placement in “high demand” fields and taking on flagship institutions.

Even a local paper, the Daily Tar Heel, a paper that endorsed McCrory, was put off.

What they do indicate is a worrisome lack of respect for the importance of education in the bettering of society, the long-term improvement of the economy and as a means of social mobility.If Gov. McCrory wants to talk about improving education policy, there’s a serious debate to be had. However, simply discounting all areas of study that aren’t directly professional — and then suggesting they should be limited to the wealthy elite who can afford a private education — cheapens and oversimplifies the discussion.

This isn’t the first time where people in power have tried to limit who has access to knowledge. First it was women in the work place, then women and the right to vote, then women and the right to even attempt to touch the glass ceiling. There was also Blacks and the idea of “Separate but Equal” and, before that, the Booker T/DuBois debate about what and how and where the Black man should be placed in society (TeamDuBois).  People who pontificate on how people should learn and what they should be allowed to learn very seldom put those limits on themselves.  Some of the Educated believe it is their duty to tell people how they should be educated. It’s a lot like a man eating a four course meal giving a lecture to a room full of starving people how they should eat only once a day, and then only rice and beans.

The argument that a liberal education is close to pointless as far as job procurement is true only if you think about an education as a black and white experience that involves little or no creativity.  Invention, original thought, creativity and sheer intellectual curiosity is fostered by a rich education that is more of a mosaic than a paint-by-numbers sketch book. How many inventions were created by people that thought outside the box and looked at something differently?  If everyone is taught the same, then you destroy diversity, which destroys the ability to tackle a problem at different angles.  A good business proposal is created by a person that might have some idea of history (Liberal arts) or how people work together in society (Sociology, a liberal art) or how Plato or Socrates viewed the world and how their views still influence us (Philosophy, a liberal art). Writing, yes, writing, is important because you probably will have to write something to someone if you have a job that gives you more than 40 grand a year.  God forbid that we try and introduce books to people to read that may give them a different prospective of how the world works.  God forbid people see things a bit differently than how someone might want them to.

Public education is the cheapest way for anyone to have any exposure to liberal arts. Private schools are too expensive and is a barrier for people to obtain that knowledge.  If we say that liberal arts are unimportant, and that public colleges should only be tasked with teaching people how to fix a car or build a brick wall, we are creating another “Separate but Equal” situation. We say, hey, here’s your college degree. But, since you didn’t go to a certain school, your degree isn’t worth as much. This is already the truth. What the Governor is attempting would only make things far, far worse.

Public schools are funded by tax payer money. Tax payers deserve a proper, well rounded education and students should have the ability to take courses that help them be better, more informed citizens. It’s no surprise that Governor McCrory is a Republican.  More and more, their lot are showing that they either hate the poor and underprivileged or that they love the rich and higher classes.  These actions and more are the reasons they were embarrassed in the 2012 election.  And something like this happening in North Carolina makes me sad when I think about my home state and reinforces my decision to leave in the first place.