The Importance of Liberal Arts 1/29/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Every student attending a four-year college institution is required to take a certain set of liberal arts courses. These include English and Composition courses, typically social studies courses (such as history, politics, psychology and so forth), humanities (such as art, literature, and language courses), and often a few other courses as well.

These are the requirements that distinguish a college degree from a technical degree (typically requiring only the courses to obtain the skills to work in a chosen profession such as electrician, chef or firefighting). Additionally, and typically less frequently discussed, it is the liberal art requirements that distinguish one college from another. For example, a religious institution will typically include some form of religious course with leanings towards the institution’s affiliation, or for an institution focused on computer sciences there might be a programming course requirement.

These days, students graduating from High School have to decide on their path. It has (fortunately) become just as acceptable to go straight into work, to technical school or community college as it is a traditional four-year institution largely because of the ever-inflating cost of education. It’s unfortunate that the response to lower enrollment seems to be higher tuition costs (or hidden costs such as “course fees” so the administrators can claim “no tuition hike”). It feels like somebody is missing the point that one reason that enrollment is down is because of higher tuition.

Anyway, be that as it may, it’s not the point of this post to suggest that one path is better than another. I’ve long advocated for seeking the education required to reach the long-term goals of the student, rather than getting an education that doesn’t serve the student as it should. But for those students seeking a traditional four-year degree, they often find themselves taking courses and wondering what the point of these courses are since they don’t seem related to their major.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was one of those students. I wanted to become a chemist in middle school (believe it or not), so my entire life was focused towards that goal. People often believe that I am somehow smart because of my knowledge in what is deemed to be a “difficult subject” but trust me; if you focus on ANYTHING since 1976, you’d BETTER be good at it!

So here I am, taking courses like Roman Literature, Philosophy of Religion, Political Science, and composition and wondering what the point is. I was so focused, in fact, that one day in Cincinnati I saw a bus that had a sign on it that read “All you need is a little TLC”. Immediately, I wondered just how many people even know what Thin Layer Chromatography is?

So, what is the point to these liberal arts courses for people in a technical degree? You’ve heard the typical answer “well, it makes you a better-rounded individual!” Okay, that’s true, but it’s more than that.

Did you know that liberal arts majors have a higher rate of acceptance to medical school than just about any other major? The exception, if it is that, are physical science majors like chemistry and physics majors which often are comparable to the rate of acceptance to liberal arts majors. I understand the higher acceptance rate of chemistry majors since, after all, medicine is far more closely related to chemistry than biology, but liberal arts seems odd. It has been suggested that the reason liberal arts majors are more successful is because they do better on the interview stage of the application process.

The reality is that it just doesn’t matter how many letters are after your name because ain’t nobody gonna take you serious if you can’t talk no good American. In modern memes, I often find myself spending longer than I should trying to decipher what it is, exactly, that the creator is trying to say. It’s liberal arts courses that teach you to better express your thoughts and gives you the understanding of culture to give your discussions the depth that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. At the RCPD, when I was assigned a new supervisor after my first retired immediately made me feel the weight of the sword of Damocles for the rest of my time as the forensic science director. Often using such obscure references is little more than an effort to show off and comes across as pretentious, yet it’s my knowledge of Greek writing that allows me to pull that one out of my hat for this post. In another setting, it would be more appropriate, and I am ready for that situation.

The reality is that you will have your entire life to learn more about your profession. Those liberal arts courses will likely be the last real opportunity to expand beyond those technical courses without making a conscious effort at self-study. Enjoy them, pay attention, and get what you can out of them while you have that opportunity.

One thought on “The Importance of Liberal Arts 1/29/20

  1. A medical doctor needs to write articles for journals in order to climb the ladder of success. In fact, that person needs to write those articles to keep the job he or she has in a lot of cases. If he or she can’t write a decent article, including all the grammar, he or she may end up homeless.

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