It should come as no surprise to those of us who have already felt ire towards Florida’s current governor, Rick Scott, that he has once again alienated students in his latest action against higher education. In recent interviews with the Herald Tribune and right-wing radio talk-show host Marc Bernier, Scott has been recorded as saying that students should no longer focus on liberal arts degrees, but instead on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees. The ensuing reaction from a number of online bloggers and news outlets have been mixed, but many have been coining the phrase “drop dead” to refer to Scott’s comments towards liberal arts majors. As a current student of a liberal arts degree I find myself with a lot to say.
The basis of any liberal arts degree, including those of New College of Florida, is to learn a specific subject while also developing the skills of rational thought, deductive reasoning and other, similar, intellectual capabilities. The idea is a liberal arts degree teaches you how to learn a myriad of subjects and adapt to different jobs or life situations. So-called STEM degrees are less likely to do so. Not only are they fairly specified degree areas, but they are so often in a flux of change that they can actually limit a person who attempts to get a degree in, say, technology.
“The problem with the STEM degrees is that you get it in such a narrow field that you can really only do what you are trained for,” said third-year Emily Ryan, a literature student. “Also, those fields change so fast that you need to keep up to date and continue to learn things all the time, which is why liberal arts is good because they teach you how to adapt, and you can basically do anything that requires further learning [for a job].”
Scott, however, should take into consideration that without liberal arts degrees, many STEM degrees would not even be available. The Socratic method, which stimulates discussion and critical thinking through the posing and answering of questions, has been used and taught since ancient Greece and is preferred in many classrooms, high school and college. What would happen to teachers if liberal arts degrees became null and void? If I’m not mistaken, in order to earn a STEM degree, one still must be taught the curriculum by a professor. In fact, I do believe it’s important to have teachers before college, in high school equivalent courses, as well.
By pushing STEM degrees, Scott isolates students who excel in areas of study like history, literature and languages. Not every student in the country, let alone in Florida, is capable or willing to limit his or her future education to science, technology, engineering, or math. Writers, artists and historians are all integral to the continuation and documentation of the human species for future generations. Furthermore, many liberal arts schools have good science and math programs. New College is a national leader in sciences, with facilities like the Pritzker Marine Biology Research Center, which is approximately 10,000 square feet, holds more than 90 aquaria and features student and faculty research labs. Although not a science major myself, I suspect that a lab like that would be very beneficial to many science degrees.
The argument for the dissolution of the liberal arts degree comes in the basic format of, “Where are the jobs? We need more jobs! How do we get more jobs?” A rather simplistic outlook, it focuses more on the marketability of a degree than on the actual abilities of the student. Subjects like anthropology—a degree that seems to have particularly drawn Scott’s ire, despite his daughter having one of her own—philosophy, and psychology benefit future employees in more than just their subject areas. John F. Kennedy, Sally Ride, Harold Varmus and Carol Browner are all graduates of liberal arts degrees who went on to become the president, the first American woman in space, a Nobel-Prize winner in Medicine, and the longest serving Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Moreover, if a student gets a Bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and then goes on to get a Masters in physics or a Doctorate in medicine, that student will have learned to incorporate the adaptability of a liberal arts degree with the “job finding capability” of a STEM degree. Even that won’t guarantee a job in your field. A cousin of mine who graduated with a Masters in Kinesiology couldn’t find a job in his field for almost three years after he left college.
In his own article on the topic, Adam Weinstein, the national security reporter for Mother Jones, he points out that if Scott and subsequently Florida’s Board of Governors for Higher Education wanted to cut out “waste” from state universities’ budgets, they could try trimming the football programs instead of the anthropology ones, which receive less than 10 percent of what college football generates. He might also want to consider stopping mandatory drug tests for citizens on welfare. My mother, who has been a school nurse for the last 13 years lost her job before summer ended and before she received any money form the government that cost her job, she was handed a little plastic cup.
It seems to me that, truthfully, Scott’s argument is fairly weak. With the elimination of the social and cultural programs associated with liberal arts degrees and, as a result, the spread of social justice and morality, Scott seems to want to rush in a new wave of like-minded robots who will all vote for him and his Republican cronies without thought or reason.
It’s said that hindsight is 20-20, and I’m left to wonder if Scott sees that perhaps he should have held his tongue for once. Or if his honest reaction towards liberal arts degrees as a whole is telling about the kind of governor he is and will still become: one who is exclusionary and abrasive, and frankly doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Information for this opinion generated from: http://motherjones.com/mojo/2011/10/rick-scott-liberal-arts-majors-drop-dead-anthropology, http://www.ncf.edu/pritzker and http://liberalarts.nuvvo.com/lesson/3279-famous-liberal-arts-grads