The first dissonance deals with a Liberal Arts Education. Just sit with the phrase for a moment. What thoughts does it bring up in you? What image does your mind create?
I asked friends on Facebook what they thought of General Education and Liberal Arts. The responses they gave me were not unexpected, but shows a disconnect between what I see as General Education/Liberal Arts and what non-academics see. This is especially true when you look at people still in school. This is a question I'm going to ask my Freshmen class today, just to see what their feeling is on a Liberal Arts Education. So, what were the comments?
- "The idea is to give freedom. But I've seen few liberal arts majors that don't regret their decision and end up in grad school hoping that gets them their degree. My girlfriend wishes she had gotten something that translates better to a job than her Political Science degree."
- "Because we assume people need to be more well rounded to be successful. This is why we are failing, every team has its players, playing the game makes you well rounded. We need more experts in my opinion."
- "Because 'everyone needs to go to college' but not everyone really needs to go to college and not everyone can really hack it at college. ( I say this from the position of having more then 4 years of college and no degree) So we create a ' diverse spectrum of programs suited for all types of students' Oh and because more students = more money for schools and student loan companies. "
- "I think that a lot people don't "figure out what they want to be when they grow up" until after traditional college age. Yet, most jobs require a college education."
The comments above reflect a common thread I've heard about liberal arts education. People want a degree with meaning, and they want to get through the degree. Many see classes outside of your major as being unnecessary or even wasteful. It is strange that for academics, we are seeing breakdown in the traditional (and abstract) concepts of disciplines, observing instead a strong increase in multidisciplinary or cross-disciplinary studies.
The problem is we as academics have not articulated our expectation of what it means to have a liberal arts education in a why that is meaningful to the non-academic. Most people see Liberal Arts as being history, political science, philosophy, or art. They don't see it as something more holistic; that liberal arts means those in the humanities have to learn science and math, as well as scientists having to experience the humanities.
Why do we have liberal arts education? Perspective.
The goal is to give students a diverse perspective of the world. It can also be described as having different models to use. A good example of this concept can be found in "Sparks of Genius" by Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein. They show how art helped informed the discoveries of great scientists. Warren Buffet has also spoken of how diverse models, even non-financial, can inform his financial adventures.
The goal is not just to fill your head with information, but to provide different perspectives. So, how do we articulate this as a valuable goal to students?