Leaving the arts behind means leaving critical thinking behind

Posted by mouthyb | Posted in , | Posted on 1:35 AM


One of the truly shitty things which has occurred through the influence of MBA models on education is the attempt to force educational institutions to adopt the same short-term profit model associated with business. In a practical sense, this means that programs which do not fit certain criteria are last in line for funding, if they get funded at all. China is not alone in this approach.

The criteria tends to be some vacuous bullshit which conflates education with a product and argues that education has to be treated like a commercial product in a competitive market. This is a problem for the following reasons: education cannot, by definition, exhibit short term gains. The shortest timespan for gains is the two or so years it takes to get an associate's degree, which is a tiny, fractionalized, specialized experience of education which removes all other reasons for being educated except a narrow sliver of industry-related activities. The packaging of education as a commercial project has enabled tuition hikes and the hemorrhage of funding from education budgets and into college sports, which can demonstrate a faster, more direct profit.

I don't begrudge people who want a super-specialized education to get into a very specific job, and the FSM knows education is ridiculously expensive and time consuming, but what they're getting is not a college education; it lacks the scope of a college education and the training in being critical of one's experience which is why the Humanities are a part of a traditional education. An associate's degree is job training, which is not the same thing as a full, five year degree (used to be four).

It's also true that a BA has become the least you need to get many species of professional jobs, or at least an associates'. There is a need for both the legitimation the degree conveys and the training provided with one.

I couldn't argue that the Humanities are also capable of being nebulous, indefinite, non-productive and self-satisfied. That was my experience getting an MFA. However, they can and sometimes do provide a service to education which is not replicated in the same way by other disciplines.

When the Humanities (and the sciences have their own sins) function the way they are meant to, the result is students who are capable of broad-spectrum problem solving in a variety of different situations.

I count the growing popularity of job skills training and resentment of a diversified education as ignorance of history* and the value of having more than one or two skill sets. A college education meant that the person coming out the other side was capable of a wide variety of activities: basic math, able to fluently write a series of different forms, familiar with logic and/or argumentation, able to perform basic research, able to understand at least one science, and fluent in at least two languages. The problem with allowing MBAs and business owners to dictate what is and is not necessary is that critical thinking and problem solving become unnecessary.

In fact, they're seen as downright counter-productive to the goals of business, even though industry growth for artists here in the US is set to grow at the same average as most occupations and active arts communities actually contribute to the economy. Because the arts are experiential (practice-based), they also contribute strongly to learning critical thinking skills.

It's worth asking the question: what does disappearing the arts, which does contribute to the economy, which is expected to grow, which helps foment critical thinking skills which concern one's place in society, do for society?

It sure as shit doesn't make society more efficient or profitable. I may not be cut out to be a lifetime artist, even though I am a highly trained one, but my move into the sciences does not mean that I no longer understand the use of disciplines which practice examining what it is to be human, even if I found many of my professors and colleagues to be self-satisfied and annoying.

I can appreciate the arts and the contributions of the arts without having to like all the artists involved, which is a damn sight better than the clamor of Republicans and the Christian Right over both publicly and privately funded NEA exhibits which they feel mock their religion.

I'd like to hope that the move to consider the arts as unnecessary to education is transparently a political gimmick, but I worry about the seeming popular support. The undergraduates and some of the graduates around me seem to like to echo the popular idea that they should only have to take the classes which profit them the most.

Those classes are believed to be rarely in the Humanities.

*I am aware that colleges only in the last century, and in some cases the last fifty odd years, allowed both women and minorities to earn degrees. I am extrapolating from the white, affluent, male college experience.

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