Professor L. Smith PhD, Chair, Department of the Social Sciences
For the typical UCCI student, a specialty such as Accounting, Computing, Economics, Marketing, Engineering, Natural Science, etcetera, is pretty straightforward, but why do, in addition, courses in Writing, Literature, Critical Thinking, History, Philosophy and Psychology? Or why should students of the Social Sciences or the Humanities be required to do a Science, a Second Language and other areas of knowledge outside of their areas of specialisation? Why all these options in the Arts, the Social Sciences, the Natural Sciences? Why is a second language required? Sometimes these questions are also asked by other stakeholders.
This is not unique to the UCCI student. It is quite fashionable for the new student just entering university, to have the view that making lots of money is the imperative of education. The student begins to focus on what he or she is to do, rather than who he or she is to become. A fixation on specialisation as the key to this end, may cause that student to miss out on an education.
Yet, the University must focus on producing educated persons, not just specialists. By the best measures, as Arthur Holmes, in his classic, The Idea of the Christian College, explains that the educated individual possesses intellectual qualities of mind such as breadth of understanding, openness to new ideas, intellectual honesty about other views, analytical and critical skills, and a sense of history, freshness of imagination, independence and creativity of mind. The truly educated is widely read, not only in his or her narrow area of specialisation.
Further, the educated has the ability to think, to adapt, to be creative, especially knowing that job skills learnt today soon become obsolete. The educated, is able to write, to articulate, to express, to expound, to argue, to explore relationships, to have a sense of the whole.
In addition to the intellectual skills, there are also moral virtues which include qualities of character such as love and fairness, integrity, commitment to justice and the courage of one’s conviction. The truly educated, possesses qualities of self–knowledge such as being willing to address one’s weaknesses and to invest in one’s strengths. Critical also are civic responsibility and engagement, an active interest and involvement in community, and in local and international issues.
The Liberal Arts Idea
The philosophy of a Liberal Arts Education is that the student must have unchallenged depth in an area of knowledge, but must combine this expertise with integrative and creative skills spanning multiple domains of knowledge. The specialist must also be able to formulate cogent arguments and communicate clearly and compellingly. The university graduate must leave those hallowed halls with a continued thirst for learning, desiring always to adapt and grow as current knowledge and skills are always changing.The purpose of a Liberal Arts education is to expose the student to a breadth of understanding as the platform to stir creative and independent thought and as preparation for the student to be able to adapt, to be creative and understand complexity, interrelatedness and interconnections.
Yale University, in explaining its Liberal Arts philosophy says that ‘The essence of such an education is not what you study but the result – gaining the ability to think critically and independently and to write and reason and to communicate clearly is the foundation of all professions.’
‘At Yale you are required to learn broadly and deeply. Depth is covered in your major. Breadth is covered in three study areas: the Humanities and the Arts; the Sciences, and the Social Sciences and three skill areas: writing, quantitative reasoning, and a foreign language.” Yale University Website. This is certainly true.
Fareed Zakaria in his recent book- In Defence of a Liberal Education, “A Liberal Arts education teaches you how to write, how to speak your mind, and how to learn, immensely valuable tools no matter your profession. Technology and education are actually making these skills even more valuable as routine mechanical and even computational tasks can be done by machines or workers in low wage countries.”
John I. Williams: President of Muhlenberg College says that “The most important skills are integrative and creative skills spanning multiple domains of knowledge, coupled with the ability to formulate cogent arguments and communicate clearly and compellingly.”
“Students are clamouring for degrees that will help them secure jobs in a shifting economy, but to succeed in the long term, they’ll require an education that allows them to grow, adapt and contribute as citizens. And this is why many schools are shaking up their curricula to ensure that undergraduate business majors receive something they may not even know they need- a rigorous liberal arts education.” The Atlantic, June 28, 2016.
A Liberal Arts education is vital.