Choosing the Battleground for the Liberal Arts
September 5, 2012
I had to come to terms with who I was and learn to think for myself. Who could argue with the breadth of this training for the individual and its value to a well-educated citizenry? The problem isn’t in the concept. A liberal arts education still holds enormous value.
Like most people trained my way, I believe passionately in the value of a liberal arts education. Given whatever talent exists within me, a liberal arts education focused my mind by encouraging me to reflect, synthesize, interpret and assess. I learned how to write, communicate, apply quantitative methods, and at least to a degree, use technology. I understood the value and promise of higher education. To make it work for me, I in turn worked hard unloading tractor trailers and rail cars, selling men’s clothing, sorting mail, stocking paint, stocking and selling liquor, substitute teaching, assuming responsible debt — whatever it took. I had to come to terms with who I was and learn to think for myself. Who could argue with the breadth of this training for the individual and its value to a well-educated citizenry?
The problem isn’t in the concept. A liberal arts education still holds enormous value… The problem is that the practice by which education occurs has shifted. What our students already understand about how they learn the rest of us are now only slowly coming to recognize. Education is about a thousand teachable moments and not all of them occur in the classroom. Put in other terms, how our students learn and how we expect them to learn are sometimes different.
My hunch is that the technical side to education will undergo the most dramatic transformation… From an employer’s perspective, technical certifications will be enough in the workplace to improve standing and pay…
There are two dangers to the liberal arts implied by the growth of massive, open on line learning. The first is that students will begin to value education differently. Certificates are centered in training, typically short-term, rather than comprehension and retention. Degrees celebrate reflection, breadth and interpretation. Both are needed in the workforce.
The second danger is that educators won’t know when, where or how to make their case… There are serious issues of quality, competence, and intent that will continue to arise… There is room in American higher education for for-profit colleagues, online learning and MOOC’s… At the end of the day we think deeply, however, because we are more than the sum of the parts of our educational training. In the future, Americans must come to terms with the kind of higher education they, and the American workforce, will need…
There is a difference between education and great education. The case for the liberal arts is a simple one. It’s worth unloading freight cars because the experience in a liberal arts education taught me what to value and how to use it. While I am happy to pick up the certification, what I needed for a great education was to complete the learning behind the degree.
To read the full article, you may view it here on Huffington Post.