Monday, March 8, 2010

Whither Liberal Arts?

Here is a letter I just sent to the local paper.
Dear Editors:

Jake B. Schrum suggests that a return to liberal arts education might lead to a more civil discourse and break government gridlock "(Schrum. "The solution to government gridlock is liberal arts education" Star-Telegram, 3/8/2010 7A). Perhaps, but where would these liberal artists come from? Would he suggest this alternative instead of more science, engineering, and business majors? Is civility in discourse worth a disruption in the steady flow of better cholesterol lowering drugs, smarter smart phones, and more stuff from efficient commerce?

The liberal arts had their run at improving the human condition for a millennium before the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. This is when more empirical approaches initiated almost uninterrupted and increasingly universal increases in life-expectancy and material well-being. To quote Steven Landsburg, "The average middle-class American might have a smaller measured income than the European monarchs of the Middle Ages, but I suspect that Tudor King Henry VIII would have traded half his kingdom for modern plumbing, a lifetime supply of antibiotics and access to the Internet."

Because I love my children, I would not want to do anything to stop this amazing gravy train we have been riding for only the last few hundred years. If the cost is more bickering in Washington, then so be it.

Michael R. Ward
We'll see if it runs.

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