It seems not a day goes by without someone proclaiming the value of liberal arts. Ahhh, Viva les Artistes!

 

 

The picture may be comic, but the topic is certainly not. As fate would have it, one of my colleagues here at Welch, Julie Adamo, and I were having a discussion on the value of an MFA degree just this morning. She mentioned how there seemed to be a correlation between liberal arts skills and the current job market. Recently, this topic has popped up online----popped up enough for me to say "My Dear Dr. Watson, something's AFOOT".

At the Symposium I attended last week, one of the reasons given for the high attrition rate among math/science majors was the lack of "critical thinking skills" in terms of translating and understanding complex results. Math and science rely heavily on the interpretation of facts, not the regurgitation of facts. As I heard repeatedly at the Symposium----institutions are trying to move away from the strict memorization of ideas (goodbye: traditional lecture/listen classes) and embrace the concept of getting students to become more active participants (hello: peer-to-peer & group learning).

Yet, our current perception of the liberal arts places them firmly within the abstract. They're a whimsical world of wonder that have precious little to do with the real world, and more specifically the real job world. I myself, am guilty as charged of this jaded stereotype. I've cracked my fair share of "MICA students needing to take Barista classes," jokes. Or perhaps I've commented a wee too much about Baltimore School for the Arts students arriving in pricey Volvos with purple hair and army boots, resembling the current touring company of "Rent". (Perhaps there IS a class in "creative angst 101" and I just don't know about it). And all of this from someone who has---gulp---a degree in liberal arts.

Ahhh, but there's the rub. It seems as though students with some background in liberal arts transition well into other careers. But putting aside personal anecdotes on why liberal arts students do well as they move into other fields, there's an even stronger recommendation that comes from one of the bastions of SERIOUS career-land. By now you're perhaps familiar with Steve Jobs' and his model for APPLE ("the intersection between liberal arts and technology"), he frames the discussion in simple terms at the very bottom of this link.

As the debate moves forward, and as the concept of inter-disciplinary studies rises like a phoenix, combining the value of liberal arts with the dutiful rigors of math/science, presents the golden opportunity for both academic cultures to harmoniously co-habit each other's space. Ah, sweet bliss.

 

Alonzo LaMont

alonzo@jhmi.edu

 

 


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