A liberal-arts education?


The Providence (R.I.) Journal: For decades, encounters with Plato, Shakespeare, the Bible and more were presumed essential to college studies. But lately the humanities have been on shakier ground, and with them the broader tradition of a liberal-arts education. Faced with potentially huge college debts and an uncertain job market, students are opting for degrees they hope will make them more employable. More undergraduates are majoring in business, economics, engineering or the sciences than the liberal arts.

The trend is having broad ramifications for colleges and universities.

Yet it is within the humanities that students are most apt to develop writing and critical thinking skills — where they will in essence teach themselves how to learn. The humanities also engage students in the weighing and testing of values, and help them ponder what it means to be human. These things are not only the proper heart and soul of an education; paradoxically, they create the kind of thinkers and lifelong learners so badly needed in the workplace and government.

Not all is doom and gloom. The liberal arts remain alive and well in many institutions, particularly elite ones. Brandeis University recently dedicated the Mandel Center for the Humanities, a new $22.5 million building designed to foster greater interest. Closer to home, Brown University just received a $3 million gift to promote the humanities.

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