The economic downturn of recent years has underscored the need for students to pursue fields leading to good jobs. We've all seen stories of, say, art history majors with staggering debt who may never dig themselves out of trouble.
Then there are the comedic skits sponsored by the Professional Organization of English Majors (POEM) on "Prairie Home Companion," in which college grads work at Taco Bell and argue over split infinitives and dangling participles.
Yahoo! Education recently ran a piece by Terence Loose, listing majors that are purportedly "Opportunity Killers." Liberal arts is at the top, with religious studies and philosophy not far behind. Some might argue that the last two belong in the liberal arts category too, but never mind.
As we all know, majors in college seem randomly correlated with careers. History majors sell insurance, philosophers can make very good start-up CEOs, and there are plenty of Shakespearean scholars contributing to the economy and society in various ways. These are stories that need to be told.
It often appears as if the only institutions that push the liberal arts any more are highly exclusive and elite private schools. The rest of us are presumably supposed to crank out cogs, drones, and Dilberts for the yawning corporate leviathan. (There are plenty of business-oriented advocates and policy makers today who would be shocked to discover that their favorite educational paradigm resembles a Marxian prophesy concerning the doom of capitalism. Maybe they majored in something more practical.)
The U.S. went through a similar attitude before, after the Soviets in 1957 launched the Sputnik satellite, and it became obligatory to urge students to explore the "hard" sciences. Money began to flow in this direction as well. But the 60s subsequently produced a surge in the liberal arts. Perhaps the latter was a reaction to the former.
There is a hunger for general knowledge that doesn't necessarily lead directly to a job. The current trend is completely understandable, but tapping the brakes a bit is in the interest of all of us. We are more than what we do.