Poor liberal arts. People don’t esteem the term—or its cousin, “liberal education”—very much these days, it seems. Evaluating the success or failure of an education now requires measurable outcomes, such as test scores or post-college employment. Learning is, more and more, about return on investment. K-12 education is increasingly focused on testing. In everyday conversation, the evaluation of a college major generally assumes the form of a question: “What can you do with that?”
This is a reasonable question, albeit one that liberal education finds itself mostly unable to answer. Conjuring the image of a thousand English majors working behind the counters of a thousand coffee shops, critics of liberal education demand to know what could possibly justify this outcome. Though the most popular major in America is, in fact, business, followed by the social sciences, nursing, education, and psychology—none of which are liberal arts subjects—it’s the useless liberal arts student, underemployed and deep in debt, that comes in for scrutiny.