A nationwide attack on liberal studies gains momentum in Minnesota. A proposal at Metropolitan State University in the Twin Cities seeks to remove an eight-credit requirement for courses in liberal studies. To do so perpetuates and aggravates a real problem of social ignorance at Metro State, within Minnesota, and in our nation.
This problem made a woman in her mid-40s cry in my class. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched her usual cheer become confusion, then terror. My heart broke as she choked back tears.
She’d seen a slide connecting Hometown, Minnesota, to worldwide processes of change. 74 percent of new jobs here will require postsecondary education. Cities keep growing. Other regions and farms stagnate or suffer drain. Whites will drop significantly as a proportion of the population, since most of Minnesota’s population growth will be nonwhite through 2035.
Why her tears? The facts hurt. Since birth, my student lived right in the center of everything on that slide. She simply didn’t know it. Confronting the reality of the home she grew up in frightens her. At no point in her education — not through family upbringing, elementary school, or high school — did she ever gain an awareness of the social world around her.
Liberal studies courses confront this problem head on. I put facts in front of students who simply refuse to believe them. Can’t be, they think. It’s too different from the world I believe in. Free trade can’t really lead to outsourcing. Wage gaps between men and women aren’t real. Art can’t improve people’s health. Donald Trump could not have really won the presidency. This inability to cope with any reality outside personal experience threatens Minnesota’s livelihood. We’re not ready for what the next 20 years brings.
The attack on liberal studies does more than just leave students who confront the real world weeping. It leaves our state vulnerable to itself. Sticking only to classes within a major might develop focus, but not greater awareness. Business leaders, politicians, and other leaders who don’t know anything about you, how you live, or what’s happening around us are dangerous. They make choices based on what their personal experience and profession tell them is true about Minnesota, not what is true. That makes Minnesota a victim of their job training.
It’s not just leaders who need to take a course. Cities don’t know about towns. Farms don’t know about cities. Each fears the difference. Some of us know nothing about any workplace we don’t work in, even if it’s next door. Our awareness of others is often limited to whether they are like us or not. Politically, it’s becoming impossible for us to function as a group. It’s time to make America learn again.
The choice is simple. We need a population that is not alienated by itself. We need leaders who have an understanding of Minnesota grounded in reality, not just the reality of their workplace or profession. We need liberal studies now more than ever.
Jose Leonardo Santos is an associate professor of social science in the College of Arts and Sciences at Metropolitan State University.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)