Let’s say you’re a Drexel University engineering student. Over the course of your college career, you will be required to take three classes in basic rhetoric (English 101, 102 and 103) and then can feel free to devote yourself entirely to “more practical” classes. Sure, you will have to take some electives, but will they really make you better, richer or wiser? It’s quite possible to come out of Drexel knowing steel beams and reinforced concrete backward and forward, without knowing who Homer or Plato were or understanding the underlying causes behind World War I or being able to appreciate fine art or knowing how to speak in public.
Did we finally cave in? Did we finally listen to the cry of the narrow-minded, overly focused engineering student who constantly derides liberal arts students for their lack of job prospects and whose only thought in an art history or literature course is, “How is this going to help me later in life?” Is this the sort of student Drexel caters to?
I’d like to start by debunking the claim that liberal arts education “won’t help you later in life.” Some basic liberal arts education can help in a huge number of ways. You’ll appear more urbane and sophisticated at social events. You’ll learn to appreciate and understand art and to see beauty in the world around you. You’ll see the wealth of entertainment offered to you by a simple book and see why classic literature is so revered. It is very difficult to relate Shakespearian literature or Renaissance art directly to practical career skills, but for heaven’s sake, there’s more to your life than your future career or how much money you’ll be earning. Stop worrying about your future and your finances and live a little!
Furthermore, classes like foreign languages and psychology can directly benefit your career. Foreign language study greatly expands the regions in which you can be employed. Psychology will help you understand customers, clients and employers; and sociology can do the same. Public speaking classes, of course, have an obvious practical value. To say these classes have no career benefits is a gross oversimplification.
Other universities have broad core curricula covering arts, sciences and the humanities. Students can be expected to take classes in art history, sociology, psychology, English, foreign languages and other areas. Drexel could benefit significantly from even a simple core curriculum that spanned more than freshman year. Who among us remembers English 101, 102 or 103 past the summer after freshman year, anyway? Even a few liberal arts classes could do wonders for our woefully uncultured engineering students.
We go to college to complete our education, and we go to graduate school to really specialize in our fields. Drexel ought to stop the needless early overspecialization and implement some kind of more expansive core curriculum.
Justin Roczniak is the Op-ed editor of The Triangle. He can be contacted at [email protected]