Seth Roberts writes:
…is “liberal education” so hard to defend that no one can coherently defend it?
Bryan Caplan also seems skeptical, although I do not recall if he has tackled liberal arts education per se.
A liberal arts education helps us think with greater subtlety, even if it does not improve our performance on subsequent standardized tests. I see an impact here even on the lesser students in state universities. It also helps explain how the U.S. so suddenly leaps from having so-so high schools to outstanding graduate schools; how many other countries emphasize liberal arts education in between?
Liberal arts education forces us to decode systems of symbols. We learn how complex systems of symbols can be and what is required to decode them and why that can be a pleasurable process. That skill will come in handy for a large number of future career paths. It will even help you enjoy TV shows more.
For related reasons, I believe that people who learn a second language as adults are especially good at understanding how other people might see things differently.
I am interested in food (among other topics), not only because of the food itself. I also view it as an investment in understanding symbolic meaning, cultural codes of excellence, the transmission of ideas, and also how the details of an area fit together to form a coherent whole. I believe this knowledge makes me smarter and wiser, although I am not sure which mass-produced formal test would pick up any effects. I view this interest as continuing my liberal arts education, albeit through self-education.
Up close, I see Yana getting four years of a liberal arts education and I believe that her school is a very good one. I have not seriously flirted with the idea that she is learning nothing important.