Posted by The Editorial Board
As a liberal arts institution, Skidmore offers its students a level of academic freedom that most universities and technical schools do not. From the moment we arrive on campus, we are asked to embrace the liberal arts culture of interdisciplinary academics, creative thinking and assumption of new perspectives. However, facing the reality of a competitive job-market full of industries requiring further specialization amongst the workforce, one must ask oneself: what is the role of a liberal arts degree in the 21st century?
The liberal arts date back to the fifth century AD. In the Roman Empire the liberal arts were considered the subject matter necessarily known and mastered in order to distinguish oneself from slaves. Those subjects were: grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy (referred to as astrology at the time). Despite the time period, women were allowed to participate within the liberal arts framework of the Empire.
Flash forward to the 18th century Enlightenment Era. In Latin "liberal" means "free," which is exactly what a liberal arts education was intended to do-free oneself from one's own perspective, allowing them to make "free-floating" perceptions.
In a practical sense freedom was no longer the goal of education, but the means. Participation in the liberal arts required freedom from work, which was granted by either a certain degree of virtue or monetary comfort-hence why the aristocratic class were the ones indulging.
A liberal arts education was a gateway into the cosmopolitan world of pure reason and a requirement for serving in the polity. Subjects such as philosophy, religion, art history and classics were further emphasized along with those dating back to the Roman Empire.
Today's liberal arts education seems to have taken on a new meaning. In modern society education is a course for freedom, not that a certain amount of monetary comfort and our modern version of virtue (intelligence) are not required to gain one.
We have clearly departed from emphasizing outdated subjects like astronomy and even those considered vital in the 18th century such as art history. Instead we focus on fields-such as English, government and economics-deemed more practical, in the eyes of the academic institution. Today's liberal arts have encapsulated freedom in a new way: freedom within the education itself.
The College offers students 49 majors and 38 minors. Double majoring or at least having a major and minor combination is highly encouraged. We have our core requirements that essentially force even those who do attempt to specialize-by majoring with degrees in fields like business or pre-med-to branch out into the humanities. At the same time, those who truly embrace the liberal arts must indulge in at least one science and one math course-fields we consider most practical today.
Clearly education of any kind does allow oneself certain freedoms and advantages, but then how is it that in Europe-the continent where liberal arts originated-the idea of a liberal arts degree is almost unheard of?
Most universities in Europe require only three years of attendance-a testament to the lack of core requirements and emphasis on specialization at these institutions. In the United States, some universities still do require core requirements, but there is still a far greater degree of specialization than at liberal arts institutions.
The education bubble has essentially made a college degree what a high school degree was when our parents were our age. So when we enter the workforce what advantage do we have over those with university degrees?
By attending a liberal arts institution we are not just focusing on our academic education, but our education as human beings. Liberal arts in the modern age allow us to take on new perspectives-much like in the 18th century-making us worldly by fostering dialogues on important issues like gender and race.
Being able to participate in student athletics allows us to learn proper time management skills and practice leadership. Editing a school newspaper grants us freedom of expression and a means to sharpen our rhetoric, not just simply running a literary outlet, but a business.
It is not as if one could not engage in these activities at a university, but the percentage of student athletes will always be higher at a smaller college, as will the ratio of students participating in clubs.
The concept of liberal arts endorses the multi-faceted student because the truth is that life today does require creative and interdisciplinary thinking. A liberal arts student might not be looking for the same job as a specialized one, but there are still jobs out there that require these skills. The way the job market continues to evolve and expand over time also means we need the ability to adapt-something that the liberal arts better prepare us for than a specialized degree.
No matter where you graduate from you will not be handed a job on a silver platter, but by teaching us how to be independent, self-willed individuals, the liberal arts, and Skidmore, further our tools for obtaining one.