A Liberal Arts Education

Since I just got a new car, a trial subscription to Sirius XM was included. My car is smarter than I am and so far all I have been able to listen to is CNN Radio which is okay. I like listening to the news (over and over again!) when driving into and out of the city so this is working out just fine. [As a sidebar, I still would like to be able to listen to local NPR and WNYC, the New York City NPR station, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to find them not to mention programming them in!] When the weather improves and it isn’t so cold, I will sit in the car and figure it all out. In the meantime, I am listening to a lot of programs on CNN that I typically wouldn’t watch or listen to. Last Sunday, driving back from the city I heard Fareed Zakaria talk about his new book In Defense of a Liberal Education. I was not all that interested until he started talking with Anderson Cooper about their experiences in college.61lVUybSV4L

It was easy to identify with what they were saying because I too had a liberal arts education for the first two years of college. Many of us of an age did as well entering college with the idea that it took two years to really decide where we were going, what path we wanted to follow. For me, I started at Syracuse taking all sorts of liberal arts courses as well as the basic requirements and included some introductory journalism classes because that was what I thought I wanted to do. Women still were seen as wives and mothers, many of my friends engaged or married before they graduated, and we tended towards women-centric career paths. Teaching is one of those and I certainly moved quickly into an education major in my junior year. This was not an unusual path to take and none of us then were particularly worried about employment after college and certainly didn’t graduate from high school with a clear idea of what we would be doing four or five years down the road. But…I digress.

Zacaria makes the case that we are so driven by employment that colleges and universities have become almost like vocational schools and students are expected to know what they want to do when they enter. He argues for a well-rounded education that teaches us to think, solve complex problems, and understand the world around us making educated choices when we vote or choose one career path over another. He and Cooper also pointed out that people don’t seem to be driven by the same boundaries as we once were — that careers can change several times over a person’s working lifetime. Art history, for example, is a course that is so rich in what we can learn from it, that we are only limited with how we view it.

300px-Van_Gogh_-_Weizenfeld_mit_Blick_auf_Arles Look at Van Gogh’s View from the Wheatfields and ask what we can learn about climate, societal changes, and how people lived when this was painted.

imagesI used The Starry Night to discuss changes in the night sky over time not to mention uses of color and how we see color. I have always been in favor of a liberal arts education and am saddened every time I hear that a school does away with art and music classes in an effort to raise grades on standardized tests and provide more “instructional time.” I was happy that I listened to the program and it opened my eyes to being a little less quick to change the channel before listening to what others have to say.