The traditional form of liberal arts was aimed at self- reflection and understanding. However, in contemporary society, this meaning has been lost (Haberberger 1052). Liberal arts colleges, therefore, have lost the distinct value that liberal arts education added to the society. A study done by David Breneman in 1990 revealed that institutions of higher learning had shifted the liberal arts curricula to accommodate the market demands and competition. Liberal arts education has continuously become unpopular and colleges offering it have diminished. Students are, in turn, obliged to pursue vocationally oriented courses due to the increasing rates of unemployment and financial pressure. This paper, therefore, summarizes Sanford Ungar's essay "The New Liberal Arts". It also seeks to deeply analyze the ideas that the author portrays concerning the misconceptions about the liberal arts.
A Summary on "The New Liberal Arts"
According to Ungar, hard economic times have led to an intense study of accepted concepts, including liberal arts education (337). This has led to the formulation of seven misconceptions that criticize liberal arts education. The first misconception is that a degree in liberal arts is unaffordable to most families; hence attention should be given to "career education". However, Sanford argues that, despite the economic crisis we are facing, an education in liberal arts is a wholesome prerequisite to multiple careers. He also adds that the career education that is being offered now is restrictive and only focuses on job-seeking, but not equipping students with knowledge and skills to be good citizens. The second misconception is that, liberal arts degrees are irrelevant, and hence graduates are failing to secure jobs (Ungar 338). On the contrary, Sanford argues that all the major fields of study feel the impact of unemployment. Also, liberal arts graduates are equipped with more desirable skills than other graduates such as critical thinking, effective communication, and reasoning.
The third misconception states that liberal arts are "irrelevant for low-income and first-generation college students" (Ungar 338). This misconception poses a form of bias amongst socioeconomic classes. However, Sanford argues that socioeconomic groups should not determine different levels of education since everyone can contribute somewhat to impacting society. The fourth misconception is that liberal education is all about arts and doesn't include the 'STEM' (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. This is opposed by the fact that liberal arts comprise of a wide range of natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences. The fifth misconception is that liberal democrats caused chaos in the country in recent years; hence, it is inappropriate to equip students with the liberal education. Sanford, however, argues that liberal education is inclusive, promotes respect, listening to diverse points of view, and examining on different methods of solving disputes.
The sixth misconception implies that America lags behind other countries by clinging to liberal arts education since it is out-dated (Ungar 340). According to Sanford Ungar, it may not be easy to explain the importance of liberal arts to people whose culture involves early specialization. Nevertheless, some education systems, for instance in France, dictate that one should have the mastery of philosophical and scientific concepts to pass the 'baccalaureate' examinations. In addition to that, liberal arts education is drawing attention from the Chinese who are curious to learn what it entails. The final misconception is that the American higher education is costly and that liberal arts colleges are at the verge of irrelevancy. These colleges are unable to make productive innovations (Ungar 341). Despite the high cost of higher education, Sanford argues that the government has not adequately supported these colleges. He advises that if the small liberal-arts colleges were to operate efficiently, they would offer quality education that would equip students with high standards of themselves and those of others.
A Response to "The New Liberal Arts"
Sanford Ungar has strongly emphasized the value of liberal arts education to the American society. He argues that liberal-arts are not merely meant to prepare students for the job market, but instead instill values and characters that are essential in solving problems. Ungar claims that policy-makers and the media have been at the forefront in criticizing this form of education. Consequently, parents, institutions, and students have been influenced into thinking that 'career education' is more marketable than liberal arts. In his essay, Ungar addresses his audience, which I believe comprises of the stakeholders mentioned above. He, therefore, clearly discusses several misconceptions that have been hindering people from valuing liberal arts education.
Ungar's arguments against the highlighted misconceptions are aimed at emphasizing on the crucial role of liberal arts education in preparing students to be all-rounded. They are also purposed at demystifying the myths surrounding this form of education. These misconceptions have forced institutions to remodel their curricula to be more vocationally oriented. As a result, the cost of higher education in America has escalated and poses as a challenge to low income-earners. Hence, the seven misconceptions clearly show the perception that people in the current society have towards liberal arts.
When focusing on the first and second misconceptions about liberal education, I tend to agree with Sanford's argument. If equipped with the wholesome skills that liberal arts education entails, parents have a better investment in liberal-arts education. This is strongly evident in the kind of graduates that the traditional form of liberal-arts education produces. These graduates have skills in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and effective communication. In addition to that, I discourage students from pursuing courses for the mere intention of seeking jobs. Students should instead aspire to attain a quality education that can prepare them to be problem-solvers, and also know how they can impact the society positively.
Sanford's essay has revealed that the debate on liberal education will be a long-lived one as long as these misconceptions prevail. It is evident that institutions are very keen on developing courses that seem 'marketable' in the competitive job market. Students, on the other hand, are focused on high-paying careers to be financially stable. They are not concerned about the values that the chosen form of education offers, but instead, they worry about being employed. The current economic crises have played a significant role in such decisions made by both parents and students.
In conclusion, the traditional liberal-arts education added value to American society. This was portrayed in the skills and values that it instilled in students. However, with the passage of time, changes have occurred to incorporate vocationally oriented programs. Also, several misconceptions that criticize liberal education have arisen, causing many people to lose interest in it. Sanford Ungar has, therefore, made efforts in demystifying these misconceptions and emphasizing on the importance of liberal-arts education.
Haberberger, Clara. "A return to understanding: Making liberal education valuable again." Educational Philosophy and Theory 50.11 (2018): 1052-1059. Inc., 2012.336-342.
Sanford J. Ungar. "The new Liberal Arts" Durst, Geral Graff Cathy BirkensteinRussel.They
Say I say The moves That Matter in Academic Writing. New York: Norton & Company,
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