WEIS: Liberal Arts a Lost Beauty
Published: Friday, February 22, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 22, 2013 02:02
As the job recruitment process for the world of finance comes to a close, I reflect on the flurry of interview questions I was asked. One question I was consistently asked concerned my academic background. While it is considered a Georgetown-esque combination, my concentration choices of government and English raised eyebrows about the usefulness of a liberal arts education in the financial sector.
I would argue against the supreme overvaluation of the more technical and job-specific undergraduate majors. This is not to say that individuals who choose these academic paths are mistaken in their choices. However, at Georgetown, the liberal arts core, which is supposed to guarantee at least some exposure to literature, language and art, provides only a rudimentary understanding of forced texts and syllabi. Rare is the student who is truly inspired by the questions posed in a "Problem of God" seminar or the broad appreciation of an introductory class in literary history.
I certainly sympathize with students who opt to go into more technical majors, some of which are said to "guarantee" jobs post-graduation, particularly in this economic climate. If you want a job, so the sentiment seems to ring, major in finance, accounting or biochemistry.
It is difficult to quantify the value of a degree in history or the classics. It is increasingly challenging to justify an education devoted to the study of the sentiments of authors of bygone eras.
On the other hand, a college education is meant to challenge students to think critically and creatively. It is meant to create well-rounded, articulate and educated graduates to challenge the world’s toughest problems. Through their exposure to a vast assortment of complex assertions and understanding, students of the liberal arts acquire these talents and attributes more so than nearly any other academic background.
In a world of utilitarian necessity, we have lost sight of the intrinsic beauty of education. The relevance of a college degree to a career seems to have outpaced what has driven the university community for centuries: the emotional agony in Milton’s "Paradise Lost," the beautiful progression of Chopin’s "Nocturnes," the stunning detail in Greek sculpture.
The point of a college education has traditionally been to direct a life lived well rather than a life driven by bottom lines.
A strong background in liberal arts prepares students for complex challenges beyond current trends. It gives students an appreciation for dynamism. It requires them to challenge previous notions and think independently for themselves. Former Harvard Law School Dean Erwin Griswold put it well when he said that education should be "for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage and mental soberness." To viscerally feel the lamentations in St. Augustine’s "Confessions" or to comprehend the complexity of Homer’s Achilles teaches fundamental truths about mankind of which all well-educated students should be familiar.
Surely society would be on a downward trend if its academic foundation were to become focused solely on the applicability of classroom skills to those required of an entry-level job.
To conclude, I quote the words of Alice Freeman Palmer: "We go to college to know, assured that knowledge is secret and powerful, that a good education emancipates the mind and makes us citizens of the world." Losing sight of the role of education in our personal lives, and in society as a whole, would be a disservice to preceding generations of thinkers and scholars.
David Weis is a junior in the College. FROM THE OUTSIDE appears every other Friday.