Monday, January 2, 2012

What Even Happened to Liberal Arts?

Regular readers of my blog might remember an earlier post that I wrote upon discovering the Library of Congress digital archives. I recently went back for another visit to the archives and pulled up a treasure trove of interesting things.

To the left is one of the images I collected. What caught my eye is the government offering free adult education classes in the liberal arts. Can you imagine that happening now?

Back in 1937 it did happen. Under the auspices of the WPA (Works Projects Administration), interested adults in Chicago would sign up and learn all sorts of interesting things . Stop for a moment and think about that: adults signing up to learn more about the world around them. Art appreciation, perhaps. How about a new language? A painting class? Child development? All were likely possibilities in addition to basic reading, writing, and arithmetic.

I'd like to imagine it was a time where people had the opportunity to be both thoroughly grounded in basic skills (reading, writing, arithmetic, critical thinking) and be exposed to a diversity of thoughts to indulge curiosity and wonder. This is at least my romanticized version of history.

What are things like now? Less curiosity and wonder. That's for sure.

If you have some extra time, and are curious, check out this Frontline episode about some of the perils of for-profit higher education institutions. You might also be interested in this New York Times article that details the fraud charges the Department of Justice filed against one for profit higher education institution.

Watch College Inc. on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

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