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Kinne Chapin

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A Plea for the Liberal Arts

Posted: 03/21/2012 6:57 pm

In my sophomore year, I declared my majors of study: English and history. Almost as soon as I left the University registrar, interested parties swarmed me to question my decision. Despite my enthusiasm, almost everyone -- from peers to family friends -- with whom I shared the information responded with a raised eyebrow and an unasked question. Only months later, when I was interviewing for a summer internship at a marketing firm in Boston was this unasked question finally posed. My interviewer glanced at my resume, looked up at me, and said, "English and history? What are you going to do with that?"

What, indeed. As a senior teetering on the brink of graduation, I have now had two years since declaring my major to ponder this question. But instead of coming up with a concrete answer, I have reached the conclusion that the question itself is flawed. Of course, everyone pursuing a degree in higher education hopes that this degree will lend him an edge in his job search. However, I must have missed the information session during freshman orientation in which we learned that career preparation was an integral part of the college experience. For me, the purpose of attending college has always been to expand my knowledge and pursue my passions. I have the rest of my life to learn my chosen trade, but only these four years to debate the authenticity of feminism in rap music.

I am hardly the first person to argue in favor of the humanities and liberal arts. In fact, I first began thinking about the humanities' fading importance when I read an article by Stanly Fish in the New York Times soon after I began my time at Georgetown. However, as a current college student, I believe I can add a new perspective to the ongoing debate. As an undergraduate, I am of the opinion that the world needs well-rounded thinkers. Wikipedia and Google have not eliminated the need for a Jack-of-all-trades; innovative problem solving and creative ideas come from individuals who have been exposed to a wide range of ideas. Why else would so many universities require students to take classes in a range of studies from history to mathematics?

Unfortunately, I seem to be in the minority of students who view education as a chance to pursue passions and expand knowledge. Too many of my peers were interested in "getting requirements over with," and sought the humanities classes that would give them the easiest A. But even more discouraging to me than those students who express no interest in the liberal arts are those who suppress their interest in favor of a course of study that will lead to a predictable career. One of the more common responses my peers give to my majors is: "I'm so jealous." I cannot fathom what there is to envy about my course of study -- English and history are majors open to everyone on Georgetown's campus.

I don't mean to disparage the many people that I know who have chosen majors outside of the humanities. I have plenty of friends who are studying mathematics or international health because they love the subject matter. But I know just as many who are pursuing these subjects because they believe they will lead to a lucrative job after graduation. The most popular majors at Georgetown University, according to US News and World Report, are concentrated in finance, government, and international politics. The students choosing these majors may have chosen wisely -- many have job offers for next year, while I am still in the midst of a job search. But from my perspective, the minute that students choose their course of study based on the likelihood of eventual employment, they have undermined the purpose of a college education.

We all come to college to learn. No one can debate that claim. When we choose to value utility over passion in choosing a major, we waste a learning opportunity. We waste the chance to become more intricate thinkers with a broader base of knowledge. We waste our one opportunity to be selfish in our choices and pursue what interests us for its intrinsic value alone. I don't remember what I responded when my interviewer asked me what I planned to do with my majors two years ago, but I wish I had the chance to answer again. What do I plan to do with my studies in English and history? Enjoy them.

 

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