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Why we need liberal studies now more than ever

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.

Jose Leonardo Santos

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.

Confronting reality

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.

Limited awareness

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.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Jeffrey Kolnick on 04/26/2017 - 01:28 pm.

    When the liberal arts are under attack, what do we do?

    Stand Up, Fight Back!!

  2. Submitted by Jonathan Carver on 04/26/2017 - 03:38 pm.

    Jose, what can ordinary people do to influence this for the better? And how do they resist these anti liberal arts policies in the universities, even if they are not currently students?

    • Submitted by Jose Santos on 04/26/2017 - 08:04 pm.

      Write, speak, teach

      Plenty of ways to do this!
      First, as far as resisting at the university level- 1) If you went to college/university, you are an alumni. Alumni have a right and duty to tell their alma mater what they think. The alumni office, student affairs, “advancement” departments (code for fund raising), usually take alumni pretty seriously. Writing a few emails and asking for a response make a difference, as does encouraging other alumni to do so. At a University like Metro State, the faculty union has a big say. The IFO Metro local would be a great place to send feedback. I’d be happy to put you in touch. 2) For those who aren’t alumni or students, we still have a vested interest in what kinds of people the universities are churcning out. In the case of state universities like Metro, a big chunk of their funding comes from the state. Writing to your state representatives and telling them directly that the place needs to protect our interests this way is an effective strategy. 3) The issue of not being aware of what’s going on is EVERYBODY’S issue. Reading news from a variety of contradicting sources is a great exercise in learning to dissect opinion from fact. Encouraging friends to do so, having discussions about what’s happening around us- anyone who’s been given the gift of being able to read can engage. Even those who can’t read can still dialogue!

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