Liberal Arts

When I first started classes at King’s, I decided I didn’t like it very much. The administration running my program, as well as the School of Arts and Humanities, was unorganized and, quite frankly, absolutely clueless as to their responsibilities and/or the responsibilities of other departments with whom they should probably have pretty clear communication, such as the International Student or Financial Aid Office. The school was too big and I felt like a small fish in a HUGE pond. The campus was spread across a city that I didn’t yet know or understand and that I felt was going to swallow me whole. All in all, it was a tenuous start, at best.

I’ve grown to really like King’s. Like Arabic, I’ve decided that the only way out is not to compare it with anything in my frame of reference (i.e., William and Mary, which, in hindsight, was an amazing school and just the right choice for me as an undergrad). This has made it much easier to accept the issues that would otherwise frustrate and amaze (in the most literal sense of the word) me.

I’ve tried, actually, to apply this approach to most of what I encounter here, although, if you’ve read many of my other posts, there seems to be a very small success rate. (Hey, at least give me some kudos for trying.) Alas, one of the areas that I’ve decided to not even try not to compare is the education system, in terms of the actual education students receive, removed from administration cock ups and frustrations. Most things I’ve learned I can accept if I don’t compare them: I can accept the fact that there is no Fluoride in the water here and I’ll therefore have 25 cavities when I go home. I can accept the lack of sunshine and the fact that I’m still wearing a winter coat in May (ughhhhhh). I can even accept the fact that there is a notable lack of Pillsbury products at the store.

But one thing I cannot accept is the lack of focus on a liberal arts education.

Lately I’ve been speaking with a lot of people about the relative merits of both systems. I want to be open-minded about this, but it’s really very difficult. I cannot imagine being raised in a society where I had to choose subjects I no longer wanted to study at the age of 14. Back then, I loved Nick Carter and Purple Moon and my favorite outfit consisted of a baby blue shirt and neon orange parachute pants, so I’m not so sure my decisions would have been credible. In addition, I would be miserable right now, probably working at an NGO or in the UN as an administrator if I’d had to apply to a particular program of study to enter uni. You see, at the age of 17, I thought I’d go into international relations to save the world. When I realized that ambition was a little lofty, I floundered a bit, considering Art History, Neuroscience, Environmental Science, Law and, finally, because of classes I took and professors I had, I came back to my first love, a love that will leave me penniless and destitute but fulfilled: writing. Needless to say, thank god I was encouraged to explore a little of everything and specialize later on! I look back at my high school and university experience and have nothing but warm memories for the variety of classes that I took and ways of thought and expression to which I was exposed. I’m able to carry on conversations on a variety of topics from cellular biology to art history; I’m not an expert, but I at least know what I’m talking about. I can draw on the variety of classes I had, too, in various ways, in daily life. I also know from experience that the choices I’ve made- academically speaking, obviously- are the right ones for me. I’ve tried a little of everything. 

Believe me when I say a little of everything!

That’s not to say that I can’t see the merits of the English system. Many people argue that Americans have too much breadth and not enough depth when it comes to education; we’re not particularly specialized in any subject after graduating university. Perhaps this is true. Maybe biologists from the UK, who studied biology and nothing else throughout uni, know a bit more. But from what I’ve seen, with classes once a week, one exam worth 100 percent of the grade at the end of term, and a system that neither rewards nor seems to hold student involvement in class discussion especially important, I wonder. Is critical thinking, analysis and synthesis of information really that important- or achievable- with one two-hour weekly lecture, when little else is required of you on a weekly basis? How much are you really learning– as opposed to cramming a week before the test and regurgitating on paper during the exam? I’d trade breadth, with insightful, meaningful class discussions, study groups, meetings with professors and many tests, papers and other milestones of achievement, for this kind of supposed “depth” any day. I’d also argue that, if one is looking for depth and specialty, they’d be best suited in a master’s program.

Of course, it is just different. It wouldn’t be PC to put a value judgment on either system, because both seem to have produced very well-adjusted, erudite individuals who have gone on to make major contributions to society. However, I find that most people who have experienced some of the American system are a bit more well-rounded. Maybe, though, I’m just biased. What do you think?

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