A Pitch For Liberal Arts

In a recent article, New York Times columnist David Brooks made a case for studying liberal arts in college. He said that in these difficult economic times many students are thinking they need to focus only on classes that lead directly to specific jobs.

While that is a good approach on many levels, Brooks also encourages students to study the humanities. He wrote “Studying the humanities improves your ability to read and write. No matter what you do in life, you will have a huge advantage if you can read a paragraph and discern its meaning. You will have enormous power if you are the person in the office who can write a clear and concise memo.”

How many work-related memos and e-mails have you read that needed some serious editing?

Another point Brooks made about the importance of studying liberal arts was that it helps students be thinkers. It sharpens critical thinking skills and helps with understanding human behavior that goes beyond scientific study. He wrote that “deep down people have passions and drives that don’t lend themselves to systemic modeling. They have yearnings and fears that reside in an inner beast you could call The Big Shaggy.”

It is The Big Shaggy that prompts people to do things that we simply cannot understand or explain logically. Brooks wrote that some people are able to take the upheavals of life that emanate from The Big Shaggy and represent them in many forms. One of those forms is literature.

I tried several searches and have not been able to find a link to the whole article, and I wish I could. It would be interesting for all writers to read. I think we are all aware of the importance of having clear motivations for our character’s actions, but the ability to really dig deep into The Big Shaggy would add even more dimension to the characters and the plot.

Thanks to Susan for providing the link to the Brooks Column in her comment.

3 thoughts on “A Pitch For Liberal Arts”

  1. I agree somewhat. But for those lucky ones who know what they want to be when they grow up, sometimes the bare basics in the humanities is all they have time for. Here I’m talking about those who are hardwired toward the science and mathematics fields mostly.

  2. I know David Brooks is right. As an English major who went on to a 25-year career in corporate, high tech management, I know that studying the humanities was precisely what prepared me for a career I hadn’t planned on at all while I was in school. It’s why, today, I help liberal arts students recognize and apply the value they have to offer business.

    Here’s the link to the Brooks piece: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/08/opinion/08brooks.html?emc=eta1

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