DUFFETT: Education is important part of free society, democracyOver the next few weeks thousands will graduate from America’s high schools. Many will begin college next fall. But ... why bother?
By: Robert Duffett , Guest columnist
Over the next few weeks thousands will graduate from America’s high schools. Many will begin college next fall. But ... why bother?
From Aunt Ardith to Grandpa Gus, you heard countless pleadings to attend college. Distilled to its essence, two reasons rise to the top — to get a job and a life.
Pursuing a college degree for a job is compelling. A person with a bachelor’s degree compared to one with a high school diploma will make at least $1.2 million more in lifetime earnings; is 50 percent less likely to become unemployed; and, if unemployed, will more quickly obtain employment.
The escalating cost of higher education and paying back student loans after graduation are daunting obstacles. Yet, the U.S. Census data are clear: a bachelor’s degree will help you get and keep a good job. Your college education, then, is not a cost but an investment in yourself and your future. It may be the best investment you ever make.
Get a life ...
The economic value of a bachelor’s degree is significant but not essential. More importantly, the process of a college education with a liberal arts emphasis, will challenge, encourage and inspire you to “get a life.” This means discerning what is good, worthwhile, meaningful, and responsible to self and others, hearing one’s own voice, views and values in the midst of a cacophony of opinions and feelings, and making connections amongst ideas, yourself and our world.
The liberal arts tradition runs through the Reformation, Renaissance and medieval Europe back to the classical Greek period. The liberal arts were a small set of intellectual skills that later became academic disciplines. Some of these skills are grammar, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, astronomy, and music. The term “liberal” is not the opposite of conservative. Rather, it means freedom.
The vision of liberal education is audacious. Those who earnestly study these subjects will acquire insight and habit of mind that frees them to better become the person they were created to be. Math and science develop analytical skills; history, understanding how past forces influence the present; sociology, how social systems and values shapes us; psychology, who we are; ethics and philosophy, how shall we live; and the arts develop our creative capabilities. Add courses in speech and writing, and you are well on your way to establishing an intellectual and interpersonal foundation to get a job and a life.
Human resource professionals and CEOs of companies are clear. The abilities to write, speak, think critically, “noodle one’s way” through ill-defined problems, understand one’s political and social environment, sensitivity to religious beliefs, ethical concerns and diversity issues are all essential for career advancement.
The test of time suggests these skills are best achieved by systematic study of the liberal arts in universities.
Don’t take my word. I am biased. I lead a liberal arts university. Yet, two of our founding fathers emphasized the enduring importance of liberal education in order to maintain a free society. Both were lawyers, authors and graduates of liberal arts colleges.
Thomas Jefferson (William & Mary, 1762), our third president and founder of the University of Virginia, claimed that liberal education was necessary for democracy. Why? It produces virtue, commitment to the public good and is the antidote to tyranny. Unlike monarchies where birth and tradition determines who rules; our leaders come from and are elected by “We the People.”
Said Jefferson, well informed people guard their liberty and choose wisely. Ignorance is incompatible with democracy.
John Adams (Harvard College, 1755), our second president, wrote to his young son, John Quincy Adams (Harvard, 1787), who became our sixth .president “... a taste for literature (the liberal arts) and a turn for business ... never fails to make a great man [person].”
Bob Duffett, of Mitchell, is president of Dakota Wesleyan University. He is an occasional columnist for The Daily Republic.