Liberal arts become disposable

Generally, I think most Americans could tell you the importance of the year 1776.

Beyond that, though, people knowing any other historical fact is something I don’t take for granted. I’ve honestly met more people than I care to admit who couldn’t name the original 13 colonies.

Liberal arts subjects like history have been treated as second-class citizens in school curriculums in recent years, and new ideas for education policies have seemed to confirm that fear.

In his State of the Union address a few weeks ago, President Barack Obama discussed the nation’s education system, and he certainly made some great points about moving forward. However, one particular point made me rather wary. He wants to “redesign America’s high schools” for our new high-tech economy.

I really cannot argue with this policy. We need to modernize our schools, and teaching kids how to operate in this high-tech world should start in high school rather than college.

So, I have no problem with advocating for this modification to school curriculums.

However, here’s where I draw the line: if compensating for these changes negates the need for liberal arts courses. Not creating well-rounded students is a disservice.

It’s amazing how little these kids are learning in high school history classes as it is, and I’d be afraid to see what happened if these courses were further reduced. Nevertheless, as of now, nothing has been said about how these curriculum modifications will be implemented, so I can temporarily push aside my fear.

Meanwhile, things seem pretty outrageous in their own right in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott has been trying to find a way to stop the continual cutting of funding to students who attend Florida colleges, and he seems to have found it.

According to a New York Times article, Scott’s plan is to freeze tuition for three years for students majoring in “strategic areas” — or for the nation’s future engineers, scientists, and specialists in health care and technology. The programs that would qualify for the lower tuition rates would be determined on a supply-and-demand basis.

Don Gaetz, Florida’s new Senate president, wholeheartedly agrees with the measure since he wants “to lash higher education to the realities and opportunities of the economy.”

As expected, this proposal is eliciting some strong reactions from instructors of the liberal arts. Lillian Guerra, an associate professor of Cuban and Caribbean history at the University of Florida, argued for the value of such an education: “It gives students a set of analytical skills and writing skills.”

I realize that these skills won’t help to develop the latest and greatest technical innovations, but they do most definitely equip students with the ability to succeed in a great many other fields.

As a product of a liberal arts education, first history and now English, the prospect of this policy going through is quite frightening. I respect members of these “strategic” fields a great deal, and I know they do a great deal of good and help improve our lives in so many ways. But without the arts, our society would lack a great deal of its color and creativity.

Even though we may be in this era of unfathomable technologies, we cannot forget the timeless things that still have a place in our society. Studying history may not help us create the newest engineering feat, but it does help us to learn our past, understand our present and even keep an informed mind for the future.

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