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The Value of a Liberal Arts Education in the Modern World | Quartz

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Written by JoAnn Chateau

If artificial intelligence (AI) is taking over many future jobs and professions, what kind of education should today’s students pursuit? Peter Marber offers a fascinating argument for liberal arts studies, in which students “learn how to learn.” In the process, he explores St. John’s College (SJC) — which Forbes ranks as the “most rigorous” of liberal arts colleges. Students at SJC study classical and seminal works. Only. No typical text books. The schools says, “great books — and great discussions — are the heart of the college’s distinctive liberal arts program.”

“A recent Pew Research Center survey of 1,408 technology and education professionals suggested that the most valuable skills in the future will be those that machines can’t yet easily replicate, like creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, adaptability and collaboration. In short, people need to learn how to learn, because the only hedge against a fast-changing world is the ability to think, adapt and collaborate well…” ~ Peter Marber

READ MORE: The Value of a Liberal Arts Education in the Modern World | Quartz


About the author

JoAnn Chateau

JoAnn Chateau likes progressive politics and loves the canines. She sometimes writes fiction about Chester (the Alpha Bichon) and his friends -- with a dash of humor and dab of Poli-Sci. JoAnn's views and insights are tinted by her past profession in Counseling, Christian theological studies, and Library and Information Science training. Retired now, JoAnn enjoys the creative life.


  • Great writing! I did a LOT of research on this last year. I often have concerns we are not educating students to be successful in life. I’m also concerned as those entering the workforce right now were, for the most part, educated in a very strict standards-based learning environment.
    As students seek more personalized learning experiences, they need to make sure they don’t paint themselves into such a corner in which they are unable to learn, unlearn, and relearn later in life. A well-executed liberal arts education will teach collaboration, problem-solving, critical thinking; skills many students are walking away from schools without.

    • Thanks for commenting, Jaime, and sharing your expertise. I love how you put it: “learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

      In your research, have you read Martha Nussbaum? I’ve been reading her Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. Imagination, independent thinking, and cultural insight all help to develop citizens who can grasp the big picture.

  • I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but…

    We Americans need to relearn something that was once near and dear to our youthful hearts – that education is much more than a mechanism to acquire occupational skills. What we formerly referred to as “vocational training” used to be done largely by businesses and trade unions. Colleges and universities were the places where students became well-rounded citizens, not simply laborers to toil in some amoral corporate machinery. Liberal arts wasn’t just some obscure elective curriculum back then, it was an essential part of higher education.

    Then, the corporate machine decided it no longer wanted to pay for the training of their workers. So, they began to shift that responsibility onto the public domain by employing their political and financial influence. The ploy was so effective that Americans across the spectrum began seeing education as only a pathway to business. By consequence, or by design, democratic society suffered. Colleges and universities stopped producing fully functional citizens, and began producing highly specialized servants for the corporate state.

    • Sadly, Robert, this is quite true. This thinking is reflected in the opinions of many of my former students who resented being railroaded into a compulsory history course. Fortunately, I was a storyteller in class and most students truly enjoyed the tales I spun – that were not in the texts they studied. I am impressed by the program offered at St. John’s and fervently wish I could have had that education when I graduated from high school. My family would not have been able to afford it, but I would have loved it!

      • >>> “… many of my former students who resented being railroaded into a compulsory history course. ”

        How sad. Throughout my entire educational years in the 1960s and 70s, I never once encountered a student who “resented” a compulsory course no matter how much they disliked it. Back then, such courses were accepted as necessary by everyone.

      • I started teaching in ’73 and noticed attitudes among students and parents started going downhill in the 80s. By the time I retired in ’08 the culture of entitlement had taken firm root. That being said, there were always excellent students with a genuine thirst for learning. I’ll always treasure those.

    • There’s a full book in what you’re saying here, Robert. Maybe a library.

      Along with the education path shifting to business, the funding began to be withdrawn from jobs and professions that utilize social science and liberal arts degrees. Those professions don’t help generate profit. In fact, the opposite. They drain tax coffers.

      But one point is often ignored when dismissing liberal arts studies or the professions that spring from them.

      While government-funded professions don’t generate profit, they save huge amounts of money and elevate our standard of living. More families stay together, crime is reduced, people stay out of prison, people enjoy libraries and parks, etc. There’s much more community and creativity.

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