Opinion

Integrating liberal arts and STEM

If you follow the online journal Thought Catalog at all, chances are you’ve read Matt Sacarro’s piece “The Case For Removing (Almost) All Liberal Arts From College,” a critique of the post-secondary education system and the pitfalls of a liberal arts education. Essentially, Sacarro deems the liberal arts as useless in an increasingly technology-dependent society, and goes so far as to say that if one is not capable of handling a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) major, they shouldn’t be in school at all. According to him, if one wants to study topics within the liberal arts, all you would have to do is order a few books from Amazon and participate in an online forum, no classroom necessary.

Well, if what this man says is true, then it looks like we all have wasted nearly $200,000 getting our Macalester degrees.

Lucky for us, Sacarro’s claims are completely off the mark. Sure, STEM majors are becoming more popular as our society becomes increasingly dependent on technology, but this movement does not translate to the elimination of liberal arts from post-secondary education. In fact, rapid globalization and interconnectivity calls for graduates from a range of academic backgrounds in order function properly. There is no international trade of technological innovation without the Economics majors to check financial feasibility, Political Science majors to deal with trade laws, and Studio Art majors to design effective advertising and marketing campaigns. A successful society is not one that overemphasizes the value of any one particular field of study, but requires those of different academic backgrounds to work together toward a common goal.

Sacarro’s statement that a classroom is only necessary for STEM learning and not a liberal arts education is also severely misguided. I mean, I guarantee that if any one of us thought we could learn the same information from a book and an online forum than in a classroom, then none of us would be spending the money to be here. The classroom is in fact the most necessary element of a liberal arts course; it is the space within which ideas are exchanged, topics are debated, and progress is made. Sure, STEM students need beakers and test tubes and things like that, but if Breaking Bad is any indication, you don’t need a college degree to get your hands on that stuff.

Additionally, researchers are estimating that the average American will change careers nearly seven times over the course of their lifetime. While this number seems impossibly high, the fact of the matter is that we do not necessarily expect to remain in the same career path for the entirety of our working lives like our parents and grandparents. Thus, the diverse teachings of a liberal arts education prepares graduates for a variety of fields and career paths.

STEM majors and the liberal arts aren’t as mutually exclusive as many critics make them out to be, and the idea that one field is more important than another is completely ridiculous. As a society, we must recognize the value in all fields of study, because we all contribute to society in our own ways. This includes trade schools and community colleges. While many may turn their noses up to those who choose to study a trade skill in a two-year program as opposed to shelling out big bucks for a B.A. degree, these graduates are also necessary to society, and should by no means be written out.

Instead of arguing about why liberal arts should be eliminated from college altogether, we should be discussing how a liberal arts education can be better integrated into a post-secondary education. Yes, the system has its flaws, but pointing fingers is not going to solve any problems. Our energy and brainpower is better spent to trying to find a way in which STEM majors and liberal arts students can work together to create jobs, design innovative technologies, and communicate in the global sphere. The liberal arts are far from useless. So before you crawl into your closet, cry over your pricey diploma and curse the administration for duping you, take a step back and think about it. The world can’t function without liberal arts majors like us, and that’s just a plain fact.

February 22, 2013

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