In defense of the liberal arts

During the holidays, families get together to reconnect and talk about their past, present and future. As often happens, those at the table or about to enter college will be asked what studies they are pursuing. And if the tradition holds good, there will be no miser at the table when it comes to giving advice and advice.

So when Uncle Harry asks you, “What the hell are you going to do with a degree in history?” Who needs the liberal arts? Be prepared with this response: “We all do it. “

As someone who goes to work with the incredibly talented professionals of Connecticut’s public television and radio every day – the home of “Media for the Curious” – trust me: society needs all critical thinking, of the curiosity and creativity that characterize the liberal arts can bring together, from sociology to history, the classics, the history of art, philosophy, theology, political science, the theater, the economics, psychology, mathematics and physics. Yes, math and physics are liberal arts too.

Connecticut is a shining beacon of educational institutions that value the liberal arts, but the cost is high – so high that for many it’s almost out of reach. As a result, the value of traditional liberal arts degrees is being flouted, with some colleges and universities feeling pressured to focus on so-called “hands-on” degrees that should make their graduates immediately employable. It is a false choice.

Connecticut’s tech, insurance, financial, and manufacturing companies need specialized skills to thrive, and many hiring managers are looking for people with the critical thinking skills honed by the liberal arts. After all, no challenge can stand up to the scrutiny, analysis, curiosity, and keenness of a mind whose gaze is lifted and eyesight widened by liberal arts training.

Albert Einstein said it best: “The value of a liberal arts education… is not learning many facts but training the mind to think about something that cannot be learned in manuals. The solution is therefore not to move the first generation students away from the liberal arts, but towards them.

I approach this issue from an extremely pragmatic point of view.

Every day at Connecticut Public, we create stories about some seemingly intractable issues in our world: climate change, strained democracy, lingering income inequalities, unresolved struggles against racial divisions, unequal access to housing, and bile-filled politics that encourages shrinking of the mind, not an expansion of it.

Think about it: in a world of ‘alternate facts’, where a social media post can spark an angry mob, we should be producing people whose minds and perspectives are shaped to be broad, perpetually inquisitive, and up-to-date. height of the analysis and resolution task. these problems.

People who changed the course of history have often developed and sharpened their minds through liberal arts education. A few of them are Alexander Hamilton, who studied literature and law; Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush, economics and sociology; Franklin and Teddy Roosevelt, history; and Jawaharlal Nehru, natural sciences.

Martin Luther King Jr. studied sociology; Judge Sonia Sotomayor, history; Harriet Beecher Stowe, Classics, Languages, Mathematics; Booker T. Washington, agriculture; Harvey Milk, mathematics; Marie Curie, Enrico Fermi and Frances Perkins, physics.

Oprah Winfrey studied Communication; Reed Hastings, mathematics; Audre Lorde, librarianship; David Brooks, history; Diane Sawyer, English and JK Rowling, French and Classics.

While a liberal arts degree does not guarantee that you will change the world in the same way as others, the world needs more problem solvers who dare to think, engage, observe, analyze, understand and sway. Express.

As the leader of an organization that provides media to the curious, there is no better way to support the curious than to advocate for the expansion of the liberal arts in our state.

Hoping that your vacation has been full of joy and, especially this coming year, curiosity.

Mark G. Contreras is President and CEO of Connecticut Public.

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