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Art by Sarah Engel

A Liberal Arts Education Isn’t Useless [OPINION]

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I’m a high school senior, currently making my way through the minefield that is college application season. And if I have to hear from one more person that a liberal arts education is “useless,” I’m going to implode.

In 2016, the governor of Kentucky wanted to withdraw state funding from students majoring in French literature. The previous year, Florida Senator Marco Rubio declared “We need more welders and less philosophers.” In 2013, then-governor of North Carolina Patrick McCrory publicly ridiculed gender studies majors, citing that, “If you want to take gender studies that’s fine, go to a private school and take it. But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.”

These public officials, whose offices reside in the same region as my own, have made it very clear that liberal arts educations are worth less, in the eyes of the government, than STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) educations. This twisted, toxic notion that one person’s passion and dream is less worthy of government support only furthers an unhealthy education system in which students are not treated equally. Just for a minute, let’s pretend that systematic oppression in schools doesn’t just have to do with race, religion, gender or sexuality (which, of course, it does). The injustice that is ranking students based off of their interests is downright appalling. How dare you make such large-scale generalizations about students in a liberal arts field and punish them for wanting to pursue an education that will qualify them for a job. When you’re taking educational opportunities away from students because they are in more creative fields and effectively hitting the ‘delete’ button on a paragraph of their resumé, you don’t have the right to comment on their job eligibility.

I’ve always hated math and science. I can’t always wrap my head around formulas and equations and concepts that don’t allow me to be creative. I crave that outlet, whether it be through writing, painting or playing an instrument. My brain just works that way. So naturally, I want to study something in that field. But the backlash I got surprised me. Teachers, relatives, even classmates have made backhanded comments at my career prospects. But it doesn’t make sense. Yes, technology plays a huge role in today’s society. And for that reason, of course, those individuals will likely make more money. But that liberal arts creativity currently under siege is more valuable today than ever before. In a world defined by technology and industry, humanity has never been more essential. As we continue to downplay things like compassion, curiosity and individuality, we find ourselves in worse and worse situations in which the line between ethical and unethical becomes blurred. So don’t make me apologize for pursuing empathy and creativity. It’ll outlast any technological pursuit any day of the week.

“Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” Robin Williams’ words from the 1989 film Dead Poets Society perfectly sum up my thoughts on this subject. To all the artists, poets, musicians and romantics whose ambitions are under threat, I say, keep going. You’re worthy, I promise.


Sarah is a 17-year-old art and history nerd who hopes to pursue communications and journalism in college next fall.

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