A common assumption about students who go to liberal arts colleges is that they just sit around underneath the cool shade of a giant oak tree and talk about their feelings. And as a student at a liberal arts college, I can honestly say that I...have only done this like once or twice.
Telling people that I go to a small liberal arts college often elicits confused looks and condescending questions about why I didn't choose to go to a big-name university. They question what I'll be able to do in the future with my liberal arts degree and joke that I'll become a teacher. Firstly, what's wrong with being a teacher? Secondly, my future is none of your business.
Merriam-Web defines liberal arts as: "College or university studies (as language, philosophy, literature, abstract science) intended to provide chiefly general knowledge and to develop general intellectual capacities (as reason and judgment) as opposed to professional or vocational skills."
I define liberal arts as a genuine love for learning.
The deadline for declaring concentrations recently passed at my small liberal arts college and my Facebook feed was flooded with life events of declaring majors. They ranged from Environmental Studies and Theatre double majors to Biochemistry and French double majors to Creative Writing majors. I, myself, declared Literature and French, and I can't wait to go back home and have my relatives ask me why. Going to a liberal arts college makes these diverse major pairings possible. And the learning isn't just limited to the classroom and our areas of concentration.
Studying at a liberal arts college means you can petition for an independent study in building cars while also taking classes on poetry, linear algebra and the history of the Middle East and engaging in student organizations discussing the politics of hair and intersectional feminism in the evening. Especially at a college like mine with an open curriculum, students take classes in areas in which they're genuinely interested. Even better, professors are genuinely interested in their students and want us to enjoy what we're learning. As much as I complain about the amount of school work I have, I am fascinated with course material and love what I am learning in and out of class. We don't go to our colleges because we love being extremely isolated from civilization. We go for the education, our passion for learning, and the opportunities we're afforded.
Last month, presidential candidate Marco Rubio called liberal arts colleges “indoctrination camps” protected by the political left “because all their friends work there.” To which Alan Singer from Hofstra University responded on Huffington Post by citing Thomas Jefferson who wrote in a letter in 1786: "I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness." Although I don't agree with Thomas Jefferson on all things, I agree with the importance he places on "the diffusion of knowledge." Liberal arts colleges preserve crucial learning traditions and foster values in strong oral and written communication, social awareness, citizenship, creativity, and more.
When it comes to finding a job, the skills and experiences that liberal arts college students gain make them well-rounded candidates. Still, why is there so little value in learning itself? Additionally, why is one's love of learning a reason for being shamed by others who have their minds set only on vocational prospects? Do whatever you want. Study whatever you want. Be passionate and love learning for what it is, not for what you think it will give you in the future.