Liberal Arts students are as valuable as any other

Lars Moeller

The Liberal Arts have a reputation for being useless. 

Over Thanksgiving break we will all get the barrage of questions about our majors from relatives. For many people in the School of Liberal Arts, their choice of majors will be met with disappointment. This shouldn’t be. 

The Liberal Arts are important because more than any other discipline, they teach people to think. It is true that the actual subject matter taught in many arts classes is for the most part useless; it is unlikely that I will need to know specifics about European history in the 18th century in the future. But the very undefined nature of a Liberal Arts education is actually its benefit.  Liberal Arts majors do not need to learn the specifics of a trade in college, as do future doctors and engineers. Many of us will most likely learn everything we need to know about our future careers in job training, and employers freely admit this. This is why the liberal arts are important. More than accounting or math, the liberal arts classes are designed to teach students to think. Because we have to study a little bit of everything, we learn to approach problems from many angles. I wrote last week about the detriment to our education caused by excessive core classes, but the general principles of a liberal arts education are still strong. 

The Liberal Arts are also important on a greater scale than just scholastically. Four out of the last five presidents of the United States studied Liberal Arts in college, and the other had a BS degree. George W. Bush studied history, Barack Obama was a Political Science major and Ronald Regan majored in economics and sociology. These men were extremely successful after studying Liberal Arts.

So why does a Liberal Arts education get such a bad rap? These men were as successful as it possible to be after majoring in the ‘pointless’ Liberal Arts. 

Could it be because there is such an emphasis on getting a high paying job out of college and that people view an education in business as the best way to achieve this? While the business school is obviously very good and an incredible springboard to making money after college, this is no reason to discredit the Liberal Arts. There must be a balance between Liberal Arts and more math-based business in the world. Math by itself can be pretty soulless, just as philosophy without productivity is unproductive.  Together these two things form both the structure and the innards of society. Unfortunately our culture likes to negate the ‘Liberal Arts’ half of this balance in college. 

The Liberal Arts are important in this balance because they formulate the parts of our culture that make us unique more than anything else. In order to understand and capitalize on how people think, you must master the Liberal Arts. This understanding of how people think can be applied in any situation both in professional and personal life.  I have heard many stories from employers about the hiring of one employee over another because he/she was more personable and got along with clients and coworkers better. This directly stems from the Liberal Arts—the more you understand how people work the easier it is to form relationships with them. 

There is a reason that so many of our presidents have had Liberal Arts educations. The base that was given to them by their Liberal Arts education gave them the skills needed to rise to the most powerful position in the world. The Liberal Arts may not teach skills that are directly applicable to specific trades after school but they teach us things that cannot be learned on the job or in graduate school. A Liberal Arts education is so important, because it provides a foundational understanding of people that can then be applied to a wide variety of jobs.