My university is in the middle of talking about a reform of the core curriculum. When the school was founded, it began with a knock-out liberal arts core that could not have helped but shaped students in a significant way. Over time, like so many other schools we moved to a cafeteria-style core that mainly serves the majors.
People in the professional schools often seem to hold the view that a liberal arts education is unnecessary. An accountant, they might suggest, is a better accountant the more credit hours he has in his discipline. If that comes at the cost of serious liberal arts courses, then the loss is an acceptable one.
I once wholeheartedly agreed with that type of thinking. I thought the liberal arts were useless. However, I slowly became aware of the lacunae in my own learning. Attempting to make up for what I hadn’t learned earlier, I began to study the liberal arts on my own and then at the Ph.D. level. I became a convert. To me, to know something about history, literature, political theory, art, and other matters is to know something about being human. It is to escape the consumeristic spirit of the age and to gain access to wisdom and beauty. My life has been far richer since I learned to appreciate the things I once believed to be useless hobby-horses.
Will the liberal arts transform a scoundrel into a saint? Will they turn a professional into a super-professional? No to both questions. But the study of the liberal arts through careful reading, consideration, writing, and speaking can turn a philistine with the attention span of a gnat into a more thoughtful and perceptive individual who knows what kinds of things happened in the world before he was born. I suspect that’s enough difference to prove telling.