In a very smart and declarative book, and audio recording, “In Defense of a Liberal Education,” Fareed Zakaria makes the argument that a university is much more than a vocational school.
The book opens with observations that the liberal arts are currently under attack in our society. At least three governors have pledged that they will not spend money to subsidize the liberal arts, but will only support university programs that produce graduates with a specific skill.
President Obama has remarked that “folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than…with an art history degree.” Such messages from esteemed leaders are playing a key part in significantly reducing the number of college students majoring in English, art history, philosophy and other once popular and respected academic programs.
Zakaria grew up in India where the culture was even more obsessed with students getting a skill-based education than in the United States. He explains why the widely held view that a liberal education is obsolete is shortsighted. The author emphasizes and expounds on the virtues of learning to think analytically, write clearly and express oneself convincingly, the fundamental goals and results of a liberal arts education.
Routine manufacturing jobs come and go; they become outdated or automated or outsourced within a few years. Skill-based jobs like engineering need creativity, design, communication and, more than anything, the ability to continually learn, he asserts, exactly the expected outcomes of a liberal education.
Zakaria contends that, because of the explosion of technology, education is being transformed, opening up availability to the best courses, in a wide variety of subjects, for people around the world. Technology is making a liberal education more accessible than ever before. He encourages educators to seize this new opportunity so that more students acquire a liberal arts degree.
Fareed Zakaria is a CNN host, editor-at-large for “Time” magazine and a columnist for the “Washington Post.” The 208-page book is published by W.W. Norton and Company, Inc. The volume also is available, unabridged, on three CDs, in which the author, a clear speaker, makes a very convincing presentation.