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Future of Liberal Arts


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Different people have different interpretations of what a Liberal Arts education actually means, and that this range of interpretation could affect how Liberal Arts impacts certain people’s lives.

Chris Lanier, a professor at Sierra Nevada College, believes that Liberal Arts education does have a definitive future.

“I think it depends on how people frame the idea of Liberal Arts education. How I see Liberal Arts is that it’s very much about crossing boundaries in learning,” Lanier said.

Lanier says that what students learn in a Liberal Arts degree is important.

“If you define Liberal Arts as having a broad knowledge base, beyond the narrow thing that you are studying, there’s always going to be a real need for that,” Lanier said.

Liberal Arts is not the typical education that you receive, instead it rounds students out. While students study for their degree at SNC, they also learn about other disciplines and real world applications.

“I think Liberal Arts best fits my needs as a student and person living on campus. My parents believe that a Liberal Arts education is the most well rounded education,” said Freshman Joie Rhein.

Freshman Carly Courtney says that a Liberal Arts education could help a student reach out to a broader career base.

“I think the Liberal Arts are academic subjects rather than technical subjects that give you the tools to pursue many careers rather than just one,” said Courtney. “My mom thinks it’s fancy private school stuff like fine arts and writing.”

A Liberal Arts education does not dominate over other forms of education.

“I think there’s room for all kinds of educational approaches. For me, it’s not a question of will it prevail or will it take over. I think there’s room for technical education; I think there’s room for more researched-based education,” Lanier said.

A Liberal Arts degree may or may not be the right path for every student to take.

“I think it provides a good grounding. I think it depends on what a certain student would want to do. Just as an example of the digital arts area, where I teach, if someone wants to go into specifically game design, as in modeling something, doing something very technical, like (for ex- ample) I am going to go into game design, and I am going to be modeling water texture because there is a game that takes place on the water,” said Lanier. “You know, frankly, you’re going to get from the Liberal Arts education the real technical basis for how to do that, so if someone has a very specific technical goal, it might not be the best education for them.”

Lanier says that SNC has a great view of Liberal Arts based own his view of what Liberal Arts means. However, you cannot really pinpoint which college is the best Liberal Arts college because different Liberal Arts colleges have different views on what a Liberal Arts education means.

“I have been working here for a few years, so it seems like a good fit for me in terms of what I value as a teacher. I think framing education in that way of having it being about general knowledge, being able to jump out of your discipline and talk about other disciplines, and being able to have a real world application,” said Lanier. “There are other schools that might frame Liberal Arts differently; it might be about having a strong understanding of the classics. In some cases, I think some people frame Liberal Arts as being more about knowledge in the abstract, as opposed to being applied knowledge. I think we as a college can make the case for liberal arts as an applied interdisciplinary active approach to learning, then I think that is positive to the conversation to what Liberal Arts is and how it can make a positive difference in people’s lives.”

SNC will work with other Liberal Arts colleges to enhance the Liberal Arts degree, most notably through the Middlebury MiddCORE immersion program; a month long leadership program that was hosted at SNC June 2013 through July 2013.

“I think that’s already started with our association with Middlebury College in hosting MiddCORE. Now we didn’t just host Middcore, we had SNC students that attended MiddCORE and we also looked at it as, ‘are their elements of the MiddCORE module that we can apply to our own teaching practice?’ and so, elements of MiddCORE have found their way into the core curriculum here,” said Lanier. “So, the short answer is yes, I think that SNC will contribute to that by associating with those schools, and we’ve already begun the process.”

Lanier says that a Liberal Arts education will never fully die.

“I think it’s really part of a healthy ecosystem to have as part of college level-university education. So, even if it goes by another name, I think there is always going to be a need in education for education that is kind of focused on self- expression of the students themselves, and not just plugging them into useful tasks that society needs to do, so hopefully that element will always come through. And just the idea that knowledge has to be pursued in a context, thinking about its social implications and scientific implications,” said Lanier. “I think if education became so narrow that that kind of generalized Liberal Arts education was out of the picture, then I just think it would be really hard for people to talk to each other. I just think it would be really hard for society to remain coherent and civil and in conversation with itself.”

By Keifer Bly

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Future of Liberal Arts