THE BLOG
03/17/2016 09:38 am ET Updated Mar 18, 2017

Liberal arts are where we learn how to be citizens

I remember as an undergrad; so many of my classmates majored in business administration. Why? A business degree at the time appeared to place one on the proper trajectory toward finding a job.

My friends would ask me rather sarcastically, "What do you plan on doing with that political science degree?" At the time, I had no idea, but I think it has worked out.

Over the years, the trend moved to majoring in engineering, computer science, obtaining MBAs and law degrees. It required one simply major in the field that offered the most post graduation employment potential.

But for many, college nowadays has become a debt-burdened enterprise that forces 18,19, and 20 year olds to choose a major that will secure employment post graduation without a firm grasp of their skill sets, let alone any consideration whether they will actually like their chosen field.

The logic is rational; make oneself as marketable as possible for the industries that are hiring. But this line of thinking also comes with a downside.

It matters little if one actually wants to be an attorney or an engineer; it's about following the job market at the time. What if the job market should change?

Education has become almost exclusively a linear pursuit to secure employment, at the expense of other crucial factors. Education at the secondary, postsecondary, and even high school has become a training ground for developing human automatons.

There is little room for studying the arts in its myriad forms. No time to read Melville, too busy for Federalist No. 10, and why take jazz or art appreciation if it does not get me in the door of a large company in Silicon Valley?

Some governors have actually advocated doing away with liberal arts education in its state institutions. This may be well intentioned, but the unintended consequence will be the systematic dumbing down of society.

The etymology of education includes the definition to "bring out." Moreover, there are benefits to liberal education that are undeniable.

I'm not suggesting that one forgo a business degree to become a philosophy major. I am suggesting, however, the ethics that is taught in business school will be bolstered greatly with an understanding of and appreciation for Plato's Republic.

Liberal arts can remove one from the naivety of believing that the human condition is black and white, but rather multiple shades of grey. It is where students learn critical thinking and find comfort while existing in the discomfort of ambiguity. It is to pretend that objectivity is the exclusive coin of the realm, while subjectivity garners a value equivalent to the Confederate currency circa 1866.

Critical thinking or lack thereof is why those buoyed by the political rhetoric on the presidential campaign trail of abandoning US trades agreements such as NAFTA and TPP fail to demand a follow up question. They prefer instead to believe that any candidate who justifies their frustration will be forgiven if he or she omits that the manufacturing jobs of yesteryear that many long for are not coming back, regardless of the trade deals vacated.

A good portion of liberal arts allows curiosity to flow through ones veins so that becoming a lifelong learner is instinctive, certainty, which is the sworn enemy of intellectualism, takes a back seat to nuance, and different perspectives are viewed as opportunities to enhance one's knowledge base that does not necessitate altering one's overarching opinion.

Taking courses to find employment after one completes his or her formal education is important but it ought not be placed in the false dichotomy of believing one must choose it over liberal arts; they should be taught as correlatives.

Presidential candidates can appeal to certain impulses advocating returning to a place in time that appeared less complicated, but those aren't times in which we live.

The deemphasizing of liberal arts is choking the democratic life out of the nation. Sticking to ones principles may prove to be a great applause line on the campaign trail, but it is actually bragging about the embrace of anti-intellectualism.

Liberal arts are where we learn how to be citizens. Staying within the parameters of the Constitution we acquire an appreciation to paradoxically support issues that we might otherwise oppose. It is, in the words of theologian Paul Tillich, where the questions become more important than the answers.