posted on July 25, 2018 12:07
In Defense of a Liberal Education (CD Audiobook), Fareed Zakaria, ISBN: 978-1442-389672, $23.99. Review by Elicia Kimble Dick, M.A. College of Arts and Sciences, University of South Florida, firstname.lastname@example.org
As anyone who works in higher education can tell you, there is an unprecedented push for students to pursue STEM majors. This push permeates all levels of our society, from the parent of a new college freshman to state legislatures and even governors of various states. While an emphasis of STEM and skills-based learning can be appropriate, the growing apprehension towards liberal arts degrees has left many in academia and the public to wonder where we stand. This book is the author’s response to this current educational trend.
Zakaria begins by rebuffing the claim that there is an overabundance of people studying liberal arts with the statistic that only one third of bachelor’s degree recipients are studying liberal arts. From there, the book takes a long detour to discuss Zakaria’s educational past in India and the difference between higher education in India—which placed students on strict tracks based on aptitude-- and the United States where students were free to take a wide array of coursework. On this exhausting journey Zakaria traces the roots of a liberal arts education to ancient Greece and back, with many stopovers in 1970s/80s India. While an author’s perspective is important in building the narrative of a book, this book focuses way too much on Zakaria’s experience and his perspective.
After examining the history of the liberal arts education, Zakaria proceeds to discuss the benefits of such. He believes that it teaches students how to think critically, how to analyze data, formulate ideas, and enjoy intellectual adventure-and to do so often. He states that while many people believe that it teaches you how to think, he thinks it teaches you how to write and writing teaches you how to think. No matter what you do, writing is a skill one will need and writing forces you to make choices and organize and filter ideas. He also believes that liberal arts education broadens us by exposing us to more subjects, cultures, and ideas than we would otherwise. This aligns with many of the skills that employers want to see such as effective communication and teamwork.
The target audience for this book is not exactly clear. It does not seem to be geared towards students or provide any new information that would be helpful for someone in academia. It is a more casual read for the public. It is not exactly a light read, which also limits who would be interested in this book. This book would perhaps be helpful for parents who are having trouble accepting their child’s major or college of choice, but its applicability to others is very limited. This book definitely could have benefitted from having more statistical data to support some of Zakaria’s ideas. It would have also been great to see more real world applications of this, such as how to build a liberal arts degree into one’s resume by highlighting various skills, or how students can sell their degrees to employers. Having additional information like that would open up the audience to college students, academic and career advisors, and even faculty members who teach senior-seminars.
Overall, this book may have been better suited and more enjoyable as an article. There may not be much to be learned for an individual working in higher education as the breadth of this book was wide but the depth was rather shallow.