The Liberal Arts

I am generally no fan of the Wall Street Journal’s Editorial page; anyone that gives Suzanne Somers a column to comment on Economics has some credibility issues. However, I was pleased to read a column that sums up, quite nicely, why degrees in the Liberal Arts are of benefit to society. It would be futile to rehash the arguments of the article itself, so just read it for yourself. The comments that immediately followed the article are, I am afraid, the view of many people in the United States. Here is a highlight,

“The liberal arts are infested with communists” -Rick LaBonte

“I would not consider hiring anyone with a liberal arts degree coming out of US universities today.” -Herb Leisenfelder

And my personal favorite,

“Almost every classic work of literature is free for downloading on the internet. Every important work of art can be seen in HD on your computer. History websites are endless. Every museum is online for free. Liberal Arts Moocs can be audited for free. Do your pocket book a favor. Get a STEM degree if you have the aptitude, and round yourself out with a free, or nearly so, liberal arts education on the internet.” -William King

Where would one begin with Mr. King’s comments.

1. Not everyone has access to a computer, let alone the Internet. Even if they do they might not understand the nature of information on the Internet which is, at best, confusing.

2. How do you know you are accessing the right/correct version of any classic work? There are thousands of results for any title you search.

3. Yes, History websites are endless. Also, there are endless examples of websites that provide revisionist history. Check out this Gem.

4. Every museum is online for free? Well, yes, some are, but all there content is not there.

5. Every important work of art can be seen in HD? Hmm.

Unfortunately, the musings of Mr. King were repeated in the comments section of the article. The biggest problem with these statements center on the premise that everyone has access to a computer as well as the Internet. Furthermore, once one has access to the Internet it is assumed that everyone knows how to navigate it successfully as well as how to know what is, and is not, quality information. Meaningful research done via the Internet is a finely crafted skill, just go ask your librarian.

The belief that “all information is available to everyone” threatens to undermine our educational structure. After all, content with out context is rather meaningless.

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About Nicholas Wyant

I am the Head of Social Sciences at Indiana University Wells Library. I am responsible for Political Science, Criminal Justice & Social Work. In addition to my subject areas I also study student's interaction with technology. Recently, I have altered my methods from a sociological perspective to an anthropological one.
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