When Jeb Bush made comments bashing the liberal arts, I was reminded of how such comments are inevitable. Most of us would agree American collegiate education is not what it used to be; the idea of “core” or general education classes is quickly collapsing. In fact, at many large universities it is virtually nonexistent.
College education has become extremely and eerily specific, leading to such four-year degrees as Turf Management, Management Information Systems, and Computer Systems Engineering.
This career-oriented focus is suffocating the liberal arts in America because its majors aren’t specific enough and the general education requirements are too much.
It was not always this way. Many of the most elite colleges and universities in America, such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were originally intended to be liberal arts schools. You could even argue that the original concept of a college education in America was of the liberal arts.
Most colleges were founded by a particular religious organization. Princeton, for example, was originally founded by the New Light Presbyterians. Harvard, though not formally affiliated with a denomination, was a school whose primary purpose was to train Congregationalist and Unitarian ministers. Religion, more specifically Christianity, was always a foundation for the American liberal arts.
After all, Christianity is concerned with improving the human person during his or her life on earth. Studying ethics, philosophy, history, and geometry, helps you to improve your moral well-being and, in the Christian tradition, grow closer to God. Christianity has played a crucial role in the liberal arts tradition.
As we know, religion seems to be on the decline in America. Coincidence? I think not.
With the elimination of religion from the classroom, the liberal arts education is on the road towards collapse, because the purpose of the liberal arts is no longer necessary. Virtue is not taken seriously and moral improvement is non-existent, so of course there is no place for the liberal arts. Preserving the liberal arts will require a fundamental change in American society. Are we up to the task?