The Nov. 16 guest commentary by Arizona State University English professor Neal A. Lester (“In recipe for success, humanities and arts are as essential as science and math,” AFN) reminds me of a comment I heard back in Minnesota — “A potato farmer believes that all of the world’s problem can be solved by planting more potatoes.”
However, Lester’s promotion for his particular brand of potatoes is more pernicious than just boosting his specialty — liberal arts. He appears to be telling us that without a college liberal arts training, our citizens are not adequately prepared to be good citizens. Those of us who have received a college education without a heavy emphasis on liberal arts might find that outlook presumptuous. But what about the large fraction of our population who do not attend college and receive NO exposure to his particular version of good citizenship? Should we disenfranchise them?
The reality, Professor Lester, is that, compared to almost any other country, a relatively small fraction of our college students study STEM coursework that competes with your English department. A visit to any of the engineering departments in your school would reveal that the graduate programs are filled with foreigners, funded by American taxpayers, solely because there are not an adequate number of qualified American STEM graduates to fill those positions. They will graduate and, if hired by American companies, will be leaders in creativity, critical thinking, entrepreneurship for our country (or other countries, if they go back home). And they will provide that leadership with none of the liberal arts training that you claim is so critical. Your argument that teaching of these skills is somehow unique to a liberal arts degree is based on a falsehood.