We have lost sight of the true purpose of the university – Massachusetts Daily Collegian

We need to change our approach to liberal arts education

McKenna Premus / College Daily

We hear the term “liberal arts” like any other buzzword. Every college in modern America claims to be “a liberal arts school,” where every student has the opportunity to take a wide range of courses unrelated to their major. Most of us know these courses as general education requirements. What exactly does the term liberal arts mean and what is the story behind it?

A liberal arts education is strongly embedded in the pedagogy of educational institutions in the Western world, where every student must take courses in four areas: natural sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities. The idea behind it comes from ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, where philosophical and pedagogical methods of inquiry were embedded in various fields in an attempt to achieve a universal understanding of the world.

As we know, ancient Greece and the Roman Empire strongly influenced the modern Western world, so naturally a substantial amount of this influence seeped into education. During the heyday of liberal arts education in the United States, exposure to different schools of thought was a prerequisite for earning a degree. Every undergraduate student was required to read and thoroughly critique a collection of books, known as the Great Books, which included some of the most influential and important authors in the Western canon of literature.

These days, we all want to eliminate those general education courses or use them to balance out our more difficult major courses. Instead of being seen as a valuable source of knowledge, the modern general education course is, for the most part, a poorly taught class that can be replaced by a college-level practice test (CLEP) or an advanced-level exam. (AP) for college credit. The remnant of a liberal arts education has been completely lost in the beat of the corporate drum, with students seeking to forgo a rewarding education in pursuit of a generous salary right out of college – and the Fact is, it’s not even the students’ fault. What are we supposed to do when we’re told in high school that taking AP classes will help us get college credit, and what are we supposed to do when all the Philosophy 110 quiz answers are on Quizlet?

Every decision we make from high school through college begs the question, “What will get me the best job after college?”

That’s not to say thinking about your future career is a bad thing; that shouldn’t be the only consideration. The fact is, a modern college education is purely an incredibly expensive ticket to the upper echelons of the job market. Education itself is only a by-product. Think about it: the biggest and most powerful companies care about what you can bring to the table and whether you fit into the company culture, not the depth and breadth of your thinking.

There is a fundamental problem with this. Instead of educating citizens capable of critical thinking and problem solving, all colleges do is give a piece of paper to a generation of over-specialized graduates. The current methodology of higher education comes at the expense of not providing each student with in-depth training in different areas of knowledge. It is essential to understand that we live in an ever-changing labor market where specialization is necessary, and to achieve this goal we must establish a solid foundation for diverse thinking to avoid intellectual stagnation.

Anay Contractor can be reached at [email protected]

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