Flawed survey on the ‘liberal arts’ (letter)
To the Editor:
The survey and book that Scott Jaschik reports on (“What Are the Liberal Arts?,” Sept. 19) is seriously flawed and the reasons why help us to understand the problems that the Art & Science Group and study purport to study. While it is not clear who this group is, their qualifications and their sponsors, they begin by unknowingly referring to the confusing boilerplate cover of “the liberal arts.” They have no interest in the history and the conflict of that too vague term. For example, do they actually mean “the arts and sciences” or “the arts and humanities”? If they did their small survey with variable undefined code words, they would get different results.
Of course, high school students (and their counselors and parents) do not recognize or respond to “the liberal arts.” It is not part of their nomenclature or discourse. But if we asked about specific disciplines and fields that make up “the liberal arts,” “the arts and sciences,” or “the art and humanities,” including the social sciences, the results would differ dramatically. Similarly, the response to “the liberal arts college” is based on often anachronistic images, slogans and symbols, not the diversity of such institutions, many of which now emphasize STEM or environmental studies.
Such “studies” only reinforce misunderstandings; undocumented and unrepresentative images; and sloganeering rather than clarity, guidance for higher schools (and universities and colleges); and deny the present and the future of higher education. For one critical views, readers might consult my own recent, “The inseparability of ‘historical myths’ and ‘permanent crises’ in the humanities,” in the Journal of Liberal Arts and Humanities, 3, 9 (Sept., 2022), 16-26.
–Harvey J. Graff
Professor Emeritus of English and History, and Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies
Ohio State University