A modern “liberal arts” education largely reflects the Ancient Greek ideal of cultivating the knowledge necessary to be free in the society in which we live today – especially when one includes economic freedom. This “freedom,” however, often comes at a hefty price – though it does not require such an expense. A modern “liberal arts” education must be view both in the context of economic and intellectual freedom. While both are important, the economic component has become more prominently emphasized in recent years. The question of how much return on one’s educational investment one receives from a liberal arts education has become central to college’s missions. As applicants consider which college they wish to attend, they often evaluate the long-term financial benefit of the education in terms of future job prospects and college tuition rather than simply what they might learn there (vs. another college). This evaluation method reflects the capitalistic environment in which we live and is therefore useful in determining the financial freedom such an education will allow in the future. That, however, is not the only goal of a liberal arts college. The other primary purpose is to cultivate our nations future leaders and thinkers. Once financial freedom (from wage-slavery and burdensome debt) is achieved, a liberal arts education (whether through a collegiate institution or self-cultivated) is necessary in order to take part in shaping the future of our Republic. Whether through a business venture or a popular book or an intelligent conversation about the Presidential candidates, a well-rounded liberal arts education is necessary to be truly free from the financial and social chains our society has created.
At the same time, a modern “liberal arts” education differs from the Ancient Greek ideal in a number of important ways. First, unlike the Ancient Greek ideal, where all “free peoples” learned the basics of the liberal arts in order to participate in civic life, our liberal arts system is not all created equal. Graduates of elite collegiate institutions are systematically exposed to and picked for elite jobs. Naturally, these elite institutions cost more – requiring one to either be wealthier (in order to pay) or take-on additional financial debt, making it harder to achieve true financial freedom. Attending an elite institution, however, is not necessary in order to receive a good liberal arts education. Similar to the Ancient Greek liberal arts, interested young adults can find liberal arts educations that prepare them for active engagement with our intellectual universe without burdensome debts.
The question then becomes whether technical schools, focusing narrowly on a single field, can provide an education that ensures one will be “free” both intellectually and financially after graduation. In general, I would argue that such technical schools (even full Bachelor programs) do not fully prepare one for an intellectually free life – even as they, perhaps more readily, provide graduates with financial freedom. It is my view that such educational institutions effectively train their students to continue the work of those before them. Given the high level of academic achievement necessary in order to attend these places, I am not arguing that the students are not as intelligent – in fact they may often be smarter – but rather that they are more likely to lack certain fundamental knowledge necessary to be “free” of the capitalistic system in which we live. Students working towards a degree in a highly specialized field, with limited or no liberal arts component to their degree, are simply a more financially “free” part of the capitalist system that dominates the lives of the majority of “the people.” Given the higher pay of these professions, however, one can argue that it is the most secure path to financial freedom. I agree. But to what extent is financial freedom more important than true intellectual freedom? What amount of money accounts for “doing a job” rather than experiencing the wonders of life? And finally, to what extent does our Government, Business and Societal Capitalism squander our most precious resources – our minds?
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite.”