We have seen the future, and it sucks.

Are the Liberal Arts Useful?

27th November 2012

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In an age of rising sticker prices, low graduation rates, increasing enrollment by non-traditional students, dim job prospects, and weak learning outcomes, many students, parents, academic administrators, and politicians are asking whether a degree in History or English is worth the effort and expense. The answer is not clear: to mention one complication, liberal arts graduates have higher initial unemployment rates than graduates in vocational fields, but appear to earn more at mid-career. The question itself, however, is not going to go away.

Like the term ‘liberal’, the term ‘liberal arts’ has become perverted over time.

It used to be that ‘liberal arts’ referred to familiarity with what was best in current civilization, the ability to ponder questions in the widest of contexts, informed by the accumulated wisdom of the ages and the mental tools that had been honed by thousands of years of expert use.

Nowadays, however, ‘liberal arts’ means indoctrination with the currently fashionable Politically Correct worldview, in which critical thinking is encouraged only when it is critical of Those Other People, the ones who decline to Get With The Program.

So the answer, which used to be Yes, is today No.

2 Responses to “Are the Liberal Arts Useful?”

  1. Dennis Nagle Says:

    Nice attempt to re-define reality to fit your current dyspepsic worldview. However, Liberal Arts means, and has meant for decades, “Unspecialized”.

    The real question is not “Are the Liberal Arts useful?”, but rather, “Why do people go to college?”
    The answer used to be, To Learn Things, and to that end Liberal Arts still serves.
    Today, however, the answer is increasingly, To Get A Good Job, Preferably Immediately. In that context–a task Liberal Arts was never designed for–the answer is sadly No.

    The value of the education hasn’t changed, but why people want it has.

  2. Jehu Says:

    You know, I’d be content with, say, English degrees if they meant in practice what some of the STEM degrees do.
    For instance, if I’ve got a task of a roughly engineering nature, and I select a person with an engineering degree and I select another random person from the population at large—what is the probability that the engineer will suck less at the task than the random person? My guess is somewhere around 2% of the time, your random draw will do better.

    Similarly, I’d expect that if the task involved written communication that your English major would rack up a similar ratio of superiority to the randomly selected person. Unfortunately, I’d be wrong. I’d be surprised if the probability of getting communication that sucks less from the random person was under 15-20% or thereabouts.

    It isn’t that the liberal arts aren’t valuable, it’s that they have taken a major nosedive in the level of rigor that they expect. People graduate with honors from these programs from ‘good’ schools not being able to write worth a damn.