What Liberal Arts Education is For

Mar 02, 2024

“Liberal arts” doesn’t mean what people think it means

Here’s the hidden truth of education: You don’t know what you’re preparing for.

You don’t know. Your teacher doesn’t know. Your school doesn’t know. Your future employer doesn’t know. Nobody knows. Not really.

Much of what you’re preparing for doesn’t even exist yet. We hope it doesn’t exist: don’t we educate students in the hope that they will make the world better by changing it? By creating new realities?


I cringe, cringe deeply, to my core, when people try to create socioeconomic mobility by force-pushing tech and STEM and give-them-lucrative-careers content into schools. I cringe even though access to that kind of learning is important, is crucial. It can unlock choices. It can change lives.

I cringe because at its heart, this push is about meeting employer needs, not human needs. It is asking students to conform to the world, not to reshape it. It does not treat students as human beings who are and should be free.

Our society treats liberal arts education as a luxury good. Think: Which K-12 schools cut supposedly inessential programming to focus on “practical” learning, using phrases like “job skills” and “college readiness?” And which K-12 schools still have that supposedly inessential stuff like, say, robust music ensembles?

This is the same question as, “Which students does society view as fully privileged, free human beings, and which does it view as cut out for a life of servitude?”

Essay found via mastodon

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