One of the most popular acronyms in discussions about education these days (no, this is not another post about MOOCs) is STEM – standing for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It typically comes up in contexts such as “It doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to determine that the future of the United States depends heavily on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but bolstering education in these fields is no easy feat.” And, of course, education in the sciences is tremendously important. We do need more trained computer scientists, chemists, engineers, and so forth in order to be competitive in the economy of the twenty-first century.
It is telling that there is no equivalent acronym for the liberal arts. What about critical thinking, fluent analytical writing, the clear expression of ideas, and all those similar skill sets (all capabilities that do not become obsolete with new technologies)? We also need more people with the sophisticated training to sort through and interpret the exponential increase of information in the digital era, an education that can come from fields such as sociology, history, anthropology and literary studies. Few people, however, are making an active, positive case for a liberal arts education right now.
Or so it can seem. In the video below, filmed and edited by the Bok Center, the History Department delivers a forceful argument for the utility of the liberal arts. While they are particularly talking about a History education, their compelling case can apply to a great many more disciplines. The liberal arts are just as vital to modern society as they have ever been. (But I don’t think we’re going to come up with a nifty little acronym for them.)