Tuesday, August 6, 2013

We Asked a Student: What are the Benefits of a Liberal Arts Education?

The piece below was written by Caroline Snizek, who served as a summer intern at SharedBook.

Many high school seniors are confronted with their future at every graduation party, barbecue, and visit to grandma’s: “What’s your major?” That question is terrifying and will strike fear into the hearts of students everywhere. Momentarily, your future flashes before your eyes and you see your wizened self and you are mumbling, “why? why renaissance literature with a concentration in Rabelais?” Now flash back to the present.

College freshmen are faced with the issue of a major long before they step onto a campus. Maybe the thought of it has been weighing on them since the beginning of their high school career. But worse than that burden of making a choice is what follows once you have provided your elders with an answer, the inevitable “what will you do with that?” That question can be asked nicely, but sometimes it hurts to hear people, however politely, imply they don’t value your judgment on your education. But I am here to tell you incoming freshmen that want to study film or literature or philosophy that you are allowed to tell them you don’t know and leave it at that.

I am a 20 year old rising college junior and I have a lot thoughts about what I will be able to do with my degree, but no knowledge of what direction I will take upon graduation When I think ahead, the time between college and whenever my life is supposed to begin is mostly blank. But thanks to my devotion to the humanities (majoring in Liberal Arts), I know that I can learn how to do anything.  

The humanities are the center of the national debate surrounding higher education. After years of falling behind in the sciences, there was renewed interest in catching up in those areas. Yet with the attention on math and science test scores, we have lost sight of what binds us as citizens In a recent report issued by the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, they call the humanities “the keeper of the republic—a source of national memory and civic vigor, cultural understanding and communication, individual fulfillment and the ideals we hold in common.” Aristotle says in his Politics, “man is a political animal”. We are not beasts of the hills or the sea, but of the city. Polis in Ancient Greek means city and it is the root of “political”.  But it also means “citizenship”. 

The only way to earn that role as a productive citizen is to learn how to become a “Keeper of the Republic”. Engineers and English majors are equally important to our virtue as a country, even though those contributions are significantly different. And as an incoming freshman being peppered with questions, it is almost impossible to see ahead and realize that no matter what you choose to study, even if it is the humanities, you will be making a contribution to the world you choose to live in. You will be able to look at the past and guide our nation to the future. After all, how can we look forward without looking back?  


So if you are still scared by saying you don’t know, that’s ok. I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Four years in college goes even faster than high school.