On one occasion when I was flying across the country, I sat next to a loud man and his quiet wife. During takeoff, he started to make small talk of the usual airplane seat-buddy variety. I told him about my trip, briefly, and, since this was many, many years ago, I told him about my undergraduate major that I was well on my way to finishing. He cut me off in the middle with, “Computers! Software or programming! That’s where the money is! Don’t waste your time with that stuff,” referring to my liberal arts major. The conversation didn’t last long after that, but his response still makes me think about the role of college.
I’m going to go ahead and let the cat out of the bag: I strongly value liberal arts education and “non-practical” majors. Now I’m not saying that everyone must go to college, though, Rick Santorum, if you’re reading, I guess I’m a snob because I do believe that everyone should have the opportunity to go to college. But perhaps my view of college is too idyllic, and does not fit with the current social and economic climate. With the quite frankly terrible economy and the rising student debt, perhaps people do not have the opportunity to use college as anything other than preparation for a specific career.
College should provide students with the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills, and to ask important and relevant questions. It should not focus solely on teaching facts (though facts are definitely important), but also on theoretical frameworks, synthesis of ideas, and application of the entire body of information. It should provide students with an opportunity to grow as intellectuals, as thinkers, and, honestly, as people.
College comes at the cusp of adulthood. It comes at the cusp of all sorts of development. It provides an opportunity for students to explore themselves and their world and knowledge as a whole. I value this exploration. People who have a well-honed set of specific, practical skills make good workers, but critical thinking is also a skill, and it’s one that requires training. Developing critical thinking skills doesn’t require training in a college setting, but a college setting is a great place to hone them. I would like to see a growing appreciation of the skills that come from a liberal arts education, instead of a movement towards valuing strictly “practical” majors.
What is your experience? What do you think the goals of college should be?