Emerson needs a more liberal application of liberal arts

by Carly Loman / Beacon Staff and Carly Loman / Beacon Staff • November 3, 2011

 

For better and for worse, we aren’t history majors, philosophy majors, or English majors.

Our degree names are mouthfuls, and we like it that way. Writing, literature, and publishing. Experimental media production. And, the doozy, political communication: leadership, politics, and social advocacy.

There is nothing wrong with our eclectic degrees; the issue is that, at Emerson, these degrees are not consistently grounded in a liberal arts education.

Instead, Emerson degrees tend to consist of primarily vocational classes sprinkled with the occasional nugget of liberal arts goodness. Many of us came to Emerson because we were eager to start putting pen to paper, film to emulsion, and script to stage. But as passionate as we may be about our crafts, we need to supplement our practical classes with the liberal arts.

Like many other Emerson students, when I began applying to college I was immediately drawn to less conventional schools because I thought they would put more emphasis on creativity and artistic expression. While I value the importance Emerson professors and students place on creativity, there is something missing.

As a second year student, my education at Emerson thus far has been comprised of its fair share of both general education requirements and major-specific classes. I have found, however, that even the general education classes have a different tone than my classes in high school. Somehow, the value of my high school’s AP Language and Composition course seems to trump the Emerson freshman flagstone class Introduction to Research Writing. In AP Lang, I wrote an essay analyzing Jonathan Swift; in Research Writing I wrote an essay about the Majestic Theater.

In high school I felt that I was learning for the sake of becoming a more knowledgeable person. Emphasis was placed on studying things that were considered important to being a cultured and educated individual. In contrast, many of my Emerson classes have been more concerned with teaching me practical  skills — things that help you get a job. Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, exceedingly creative classes with little basis in academics.

And the idea that some of our general education classes are really “general education” is just silly. Dress Codes: American Clothes in the Twentieth Century may be an interesting class, but “general education” it is not. I understand that practical skills are quantifiably important, and that abstract, creative assignments are chicken soup for the artist’s soul. However, I find that both — when not paired with a strong liberal arts base — seem superficial.

Liberal arts are traditionally defined as the study of seven core subjects: grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. A more modern interpretation of the liberal arts would maybe scratch the star-studying in lieu of more useful disciplines like history, literature, and social studies.

Even for the highly specialized fields we study at Emerson, it’s imperative that students grasp the fundamentals. You have to know politics before you start writing political speeches. You have to know the classics before you undertake writing a new one. It’s as common sense as learning to crack an egg before attempting to make an omelet.

That said, I do not contest the value of a communication or arts degree. I do, however, believe that in order to be a fully educated communication major, you also have to know liberal arts. At Emerson, that means putting in extra legwork on the side. Watching the State of the Union address, reading the classics, and opening a newspaper.

If a communication student takes the time to learn liberal arts, they gain the advantage of being smart in both an academic and practical sense. Being a liberal arts-educated communications student means having the intelligence to quote historical figures with the street smarts to know where to put the sound bites — and that creates the most well rounded students.

emHayden Wright, the opinion editor of the Beacon and an employee of the Institute of Liberal Arts, did not edit this story. Carly Loman is a sophomore writing, literature, and publishing, and political communication major, and the assistant opinion editor of the Beacon. Loman can be reached at carly_loman@emerson.edu. /em

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