Often in today’s technology-driven society the study of liberal arts is regarded as irrelevant. But what most people don’t understand is that the liberal arts are more than just learning history or taking an English course. Rather, liberal arts are about understanding humanity and looking deeper than the surface. They shape the way we view the world and aid in our understanding of others.
So, the reasons for studying the liberal arts are endless—the following nine are just the beginning:
One of the major reasons for studying the liberal arts is that they discuss humanity. They “expose students to the complexity of human experience, effects of duplicity, and the abuses of power” (Colletta 49). In today's world, this can help people become more informed and involved with their community.
The liberal arts help us make sense of our world because they “are the expression of centuries of individuals responding to their times, making order out of chaotic experiences, attempting to understand what, according to Mark Slouka, ‘used to be called in a less embarrassed age, the human condition’” (Colletta 53). English, as one of the liberal arts, is apt at helping people understand their world through novels and theatrical works, all of which often reflect the political or social environment during the time the piece was written.
Author Libby Morris believes liberal arts help to “educate our minds and hearts” which will in turn influence the way we interact and relate to other people in society, whether in the work place or among friends (347). Through the liberal arts, students are exposed to nearly every discipline, which can help them make connections with people in multiple situations.
Rather than teaching a specific set of skills for a job, liberal arts educates the whole person. In her article “The Liberal Arts and the Marketplace,” Lisa Colletta says, “Education has always been and always should be beyond job training; education is not about catering to the preferences of students who are too young and uninformed to judge what they do not know” (51). In fact, the Latin root of university (universitas) means "whole," and for a university to place more emphasis on certain disciplines is antithetical to what a university should be about.
In the same article, Colletta cites a report by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa where they discovered the highest gains on national tests of writing and reasoning skills were made in the humanities, social sciences, and science and engineering, which prompted the authors to assert that “the humanities, then, are successful in educating students for the very thing the market says it wants” (55-56). This is because the focus of liberal arts is to create a whole person rather than just pieces.
A. Helene Robinson’s “Arts Integration and the Success of Disadvantaged Students: A Research Evaluation” determined that integrating arts into a curriculum was advantageous on numerous levels, as the integration of arts resulted in students using “higher-order thinking skills and aesthetic qualities to gain a further understanding of a particular academic concept” (192). Not everyone learns the same, and for students to have multiple ways of viewing a problem can generate more creative, effective citizens.
The liberal arts not only teach about contemporary times but preserve knowledge of the past. When State University of New York, Albany, President George Philip decided to downsize humanities, Brandeis University’s Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry Gregory Petsko argued in a letter to the President that to eliminate certain departments would put knowledge that “‘may become vital in the future’” at risk of being lost forever. He cited the importance of the resurgence of virology research after the AIDS epidemic and Middle Eastern studies after the attacks of 9/11, his point being that the knowledge of the past and present may reemerge in unexpected ways in the future (Colletta 50). He found it disheartening to know that the argument for liberal arts even needed to be made.
The lessons of liberal arts can be applied outside the classroom and even outside job training. Antonio Martello, a 77 year old Puerto Rican refugee maestro, believes in using art to bring light to injustice and social change. He uses art to make people aware of politics and social situations (Green 119). Both art and novels give people insight into the lives of others, critique society, or incite them to act against injustices. Novels such as Animal Farm and Fahrenheit 451 were critiques of social situations of their age, yet their themes are still relevant today, espeically 451's warnings of technological use.
In a world always changing, the humanities equip people to hold multiple values simultaneously “without implying confusion, contradiction, or even paradox” (Colletta 51, Ellison 496). The liberal arts cover many disciplines and give liberal arts scholars the opporunity to sort and order the information they receive. Being able to order such information can only be an asset in an ever changing world.
At the end of her article, Lisa Colletta says, “The humanities are our collective memory, they form the foundation of learning, and they bind us together as citizens and not economic competitors. They teach by revealing uncertainty and asking questions, ways of understanding that are crucial to democracy” (57). In short, the humanities and liberal arts teach us how to be human.
To learn more about the Mount, visit our About and Mission pages to see how we integrate a liberal arts education into our course work and service to others. See our Core Curriculum page, too, to learn about the liberal arts and sciences courses offered to every student.
Colletta, Lisa. "The Liberal Arts and the Marketplace." Western Humanities Review 65.3 (2011): 49-57. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.
Ellison, Julie. "The Humanities and the Public Soul." Antipode 40.3 (2008): 463-471. Academic Search Complete. Web. 3 Apr. 2016.
Green, Christina Suszynski. "Technepolitics: Who Has a Stake in the Making of an American Identity?" New Directions for Youth Development 2010.125 (2010): 113-126. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.
Morris, Libby. "Connecting Students and Academics through the Arts." Innovative Higher Education Nov. 2012: 347+. Academic Search Complete. Web. 3 Apr. 2016.
Robinson, A. Helene. "Arts Integration and the Success of Disadvantaged Students: A Research Evaluation." Arts Education Policy Review 114.4 (2013): 191-204. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.