New report puts focus on Liberal Arts

WASHINGTON, DC – You’d think that the National Academies of Sciences would be out there promoting STEM education: the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But a new report questions whether the purpose of education is to provide students with “a path to educated citizenship or employment.”

“There’s no question that a knowledgeable citizenry is a responsible and productive one. President Lincoln surely had that notion in mind when he signed the charter creating what was then known as the National Academy of Science. Indeed, the future generations of Americans would need to be proficient in new emerging technologies. But, ultimately, they would need to put their knowledge of the sciences in context. And, that frame work can only be provided by studying the humanities as well—including history,” according to education advocate David Bruce Smith.

The polls show that the great majority of students and their parents see higher education as the road to a good job. As a result the liberal arts have taken a subservient position to the Sciences as the majors of choice— in colleges and universities— over the past several decades.

Scott Carlson is a senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education; in a recent article he argues that the humanities may be equally as important as the sciences. Carlson writes that the “noncognitive skills” you learn from the study of history and the arts, for example, provide qualities employers seek—“pluck and ingenuity” and “cultural awareness and critical thinking.”

As he puts it: “Major in the “useless” liberal arts, and you’ll get the training you need to work for the giants of Silicon Valley and burgeoning creative industries. You will inoculate yourself against the threat of machines and robots that may automate once-stable careers like accounting and manufacturing out of existence.”

Smith, who co-founded the Grateful American Book Prize with the late Dr. Bruce Cole, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, agrees with Carlson’s position on the issue.

“We created the Prize as an incentive for authors and publishers to put a new focus on books of historically accurate fiction and nonfiction. Our aim is to encourage kids to relate to the study of history, because it will help instill qualities that will make them good citizens—with empathy, accountability, resolve and morality. So, Is the goal of education good jobs or good citizens—or both?”