Last weekend, I visited Drake University to watch my sister’s graduation. She graduated with a BS in Psychology and is on her way to do many different and exciting things with this opportunity. Because of the type of education she received, her last semester consisted of classes focused on: East Asia, Ideology of Terrorism, Political Revolutions, and economic collapses — basically, nothing to do directly with psychological sciences.
The President of this prestigious university gave the usual “good luck” graduate commencement speech, but made sure to highlight a couple important themes related to present-day society. As a University that has recently hosted democratic debates and became an important focal point in this year’s Iowa primary elections, Drake University represents everything that is essential about a Liberal Art education.
Before diving into this article, it is important to understand what exactly is a liberal arts education.. Thanks to the wonderful powers of Wikipedia, I can give you a more direct translation. In today’s society, a liberal arts education consists of a degree that covers all sciences (biological & social), as well as the humanities. It focuses not directly on the pursued discipline, but instead focuses on a well-rounded education. Why, you may ask, would it be necessary to study history when you want to be a Registered Nurse? Don’t those extra classes cost you money and time that you could otherwise just direct towards your degree and discipline?
Let me give you 6 reasons why the American Liberal Arts degree is so essential to our society today.
- The History of America starts with the Liberal Arts Degree.
Modern American scholarship started in the late 18th century and early 19th century in the New England states of this nation. These universities taught the humanities – classics, Latin, English, literature, rhetoric, and art. Later, before the Civil War, the United States recognized the need to develop applied sciences and passed the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862. This act allowed famous universities such as: Iowa State, Cornell University, University of Wisconsin Madison, the Ohio State University, and many more to have the finances necessary for establishment. It created higher education opportunities for the everyday American, including recently freed African Americans. It raised literacy and civic knowledge rates and is widely recognized as the concept that catapulted the United States into the Industrial Revolution and economic dominance.
Using the established humanitarian curriculum, Land Grant Colleges used this knowledge and combined it with applied sciences to create a a whole new education; one focused on building a well-rounded American who could strategically express their civic duty at the appropriate time and contribute daily in their desired profession. This created one of the most powerful societies at the turn of the 20th century and would usher in a new living standard. The history of America was built upon the Liberal Arts education, and the future now depends on it.
- Chemists do not make great Parent Teacher Association (PTA) participants.
I have two reasons why I chose the Chemist profession to pick on.
One – my Chemist professor, Mr. Severson, was a brilliant man who knew everything there was to know about Chemistry. He was also, on the other hand, off his rocker and would not be the person you would want to trust your 6 year old kid with. Two – I hate/am terrible at Chemistry…
What I mean by this section is that too often people get “specialized” into a particular way of thinking and perspective. A chemist too often has a hard time finding something in common with a trucker, a baseball coach, or a writer. They have been trained and specialized in one particular discipline — leaving little room for anything else.
Now, I’m not trying to pick on Chemists, I am just using them as an example (side note — guess which class gave me my only college C) to explain my theme for this section. In order for a civil, democratic society to work (the one our forefathers tried to build), you need an educated class. This class needs to be educated in a variety of disciplines because the problems we face are always changing and always need innovative perspectives and solutions to combat them. A liberal arts education provides this thorough education and allows our society to have citizens whom can converse on multiple topics and understand multiple perspectives.
- The World is so Small!
Yes, everyone is aware of globalization and the fact that our world is so small today compared to a century ago. We have heard the mantra of politicians and teachers repeatedly voice this issue and they strive to make sure we understand it; but what exactly does it mean for us and what should we do about it?
To successfully live in a globalized world, you need to understand certain themes like culture, economics, politics, history, technology, language, etc etc etc… These things will better equip you to not only succeed for yourself, but also help our world become a little better. We are of a generation that cares more about sustainability, peace, and social constructions than any other time in history. Globalization is the tool to achieve these lofty goals and carries a place for every individual. In order to succeed in this, however, you need the well-rounded tools to develop your character. Take a guess at what provides that…..
- Who actually knows what they want to be when they “grow up”?
My section my freshman year of college had 12 rooms, so 24 total students. Out of those 24, I can think of 8 that started as pre-med majors. Of those 8, only one is still pursuing it (a dentist, congrats Kyle!). While Pre-Med is a very ambitious start to college, the majority of other students have some sort of “idea” of what they want to do. I wanted to initially get a management degree and be a district manager (wtf) and become a part of Suburbia, USA. My liberal arts degree opened my eyes to the unlimited possibilities available. While that sounds incredibly corny, it is true — I never would have realized my passions without taking some classes outside of the management track. By sophomore year, I became a history major who was planning to spend a year in Korea.
Very rarely do people realize exactly what they want to study and what profession they want to pursue. If you do, that is awesome – I am incredibly jealous of you because I am still working that out. For the other 93% of 17 year olds, this does not happen. You don’t have to be shackled with Calculus and Advanced Statistics classes and instead can be broken free with a Philosophy course on Ancient Greece and discover how math was initially constructed. A Liberal Arts degree provides you with the opportunity to discover internal passions you never knew existed and allows you to pursue them.
- The job market Expects you to have this flexibility.
My official undergraduate degree is a BA in History with a minor in Political Science. I, however, like to say that my BA is in Efficiency and Work Ethic with a minor in Time Management and Research. I now have a vast wealth of knowledge about East Asia and the 20th century because of my studies, but I gained so much more in practical skills because of my liberal arts degree.
I learned how to be efficient with my time in balancing my major classes with other classes like philosophy and formal logic that required me to do a bit more work (and find more help). I learned how to communicate with others, especially with people who did not think like me, in order to survive my more challenging classes. I learned how to study and learn new things quickly and really adapt to any situation or circumstance because of the ever-changing challenges that come with a varied schedule. Basically, I learned how to be a high-functioning chameleon that can adapt to any situation and learn how to be efficient and effective with multiple things in a short period of time.
This is exactly the sort of employee the job market is now looking for. Companies (and the public sector) want to have employees they can trust to learn new things quickly and balance multiple obligations.
Someone who has strictly been an accounting major from a generic state school most likely did not take a communication, history, or astrology class. What happens when that accounting manager has to talk to a VP of a major firm and is asked for his opinion about the historical legacy of the Roman’s opinion of astrology and its’ influence on Christianity? While that would be an outlandish “small talk” topic (for good measure, Romans used astrology to validate their religious switch from a pagan-orientated society to the now current monolithic Christian God belief), companies want a well-rounded individual that can speak on many different disciplines and not just the field they crammed for in four years.
- Who ONLY wants black socks?
This is my last point, but I think the most obvious one…
You are shopping for new dress socks at Express. You get to the sock section and next to the black socks are these beautiful argyle socks. You are overcome with emotion as you look at these beautiful patterns of yellows, greens, reds, purples, and blues! How could you possibly just buy the black socks now? I know they are a bit more expensive, but they will last longer and make a larger impression. You need to take the leap…
This is the exact same mindset when it comes to a Liberal Arts degree. It is a bit more expensive, but it will make a larger impression and be more meaningful. It is worth the investment in order to explore all of your options; not just simply taking the first one you come across. Companies will take the time to appreciate this and realize that you are more than someone who just simply buys black socks — you are looking at all socks with all perspectives.
In the end, the most important point is that you evaluate all of your choices before making a decision. At 17-18, that is really hard to do; most of us are just focused on all the new pretty people you get to meet and the freedom to stay up until 3 (guilty). The Liberal Arts degree is a nice fail-safe for you in this journey. It gives you more options to select from after making the biggest decision (at the moment) in your life. It will push you to be the best person you can be and give you all of the tools to find this individual. Not only will you succeed in your chosen profession, but you will succeed in being an active member in your community and country.
Now go out there and find the right argyle sock for you!