Blog Post

A Response to "No More Digitally Challenged Liberal-Arts Majors"

WIlliam Pannapacker's "No More Digitally Challenged Liberal-Arts Majors" fits very well into the mission of my own, and probably many other, liberal-arts institutions today in trying to address the question of the value of a liberal arts education in the 21st century. He argues for more applied skilld to be implemented into the liberal arts curriculum and options aside from graduate school being better supported at these schools. At Beloit College, we address this through the idea of the "Liberal Arts in Practice," which encourages and requires students to have an experience that applies their education in a "real world" context, and offers capstone classes like "Translating the Liberal Arts" for its senior students to take.

While I am very sympathetic to the aims of Pannapacker and these initiatives in liberal arts schools, I do think we have to think very critically about what this means for small liberal arts institutions. His ideas make a lot of sense -- provide more opportunities for students to learn technical and transerable skills in liberal arts institutions, and give students the confidence that their degrees are preparing them for more than graduate school. He does not give suggestions for how to do this though. Most liberal arts schools do not have strong or large technical programs, so they cannot offer a range of classes for non-majors. Most liberal arts schools do not have the financial resources to expand these programs in terms of class offerings, so where does the instruction come from? Is this taught by computer science professors, or someone else? And how does this fit into a major curriculum or larger curriculum? The list of questions about these programs go on and on. The focus on graduate school is also interesting in this article, and while I agree that it should not be the automatic path for students at liberal arts colleges, I wonder why he is so highly critical of this path. All of these questions need to be addressed, among many others for the aims of Pannapacker's article to find fruition in liberal arts institutions. Programs like his own, and like the ones at Beloit, to me seem like a good start. But even in my own experience, the kinds of real changes that need to happen in a liberal arts school to make this happen are still somewhat out of reach. 


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