A Liberal Art Education

Walk into any Starbucks across the country, and you will encounter a highly educated college graduate whose degree in interpretative dance, Zulu, or what-have-you seems to translate into immediate hiring at any coffee shop, effective immediately after graduation. Unfortunately for millions of college students, a bachelors degree no longer guarantees a high paying position. Instead, highly intelligent graduates are stuck working multiple jobs as baristas and busboys in a never-ending race to pay back insurmountable student loans. It is not enough to simply graduate with a degree; instead, students need to be able to think, to question, to innovate, and do so better and more uniquely than any of their similarly educated peers. In other words, an impossible task. A critic of the current higher education system, William Deresiewicz, laments recent graduates’ inability to connect with the common man, and failure to gain a comprehensive understanding of the world. He claims students know “more and more about less and less,” decreasing their employability.1 However, the authors of “Habits of Mind,” Anthony Grafton and James Grossman, suggest students should be highly specialized, in order to switch from a “passive observer” to a “creator” and to become an independent, self-reliant thinker2. But liberal arts schools combine both views. Students are well-rounded and well-informed, while still specializing in an area that teaches them the skills that Grafton and Grossman revere; they possess the ability to hold conversations with plumbers and with highly educated colleagues in multiple languages. Grafton and Grossman seem to suggest that it is impossible to be both synoptic and analytic; however, every student that walks down the steps of Old West provide evidence to the contrary.

  1. Deresiewicz, William in “Habits of Mind: Why college students who do serious historical research become independent, analytical thinkers.” The American Scholar Winter 2015. []
  2. Grafton, Anthony and James Grossman. “Habits of Mind: Why college students who do serious historical research become independent, analytical thinkers.” The American Scholar Winter 2015. []

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