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Liberal Arts: Not An Education For Employment, But An Education For Life

A liberal arts education serves as a catalyst for the pursuit of knowledge in a non-linear fashion, and the academic insight to guide you through the multiple dimensions of every situation. It teaches you how to question, analyse and critique and that interpretation is more integral than acceptance of facts

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“And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

These powerful words by John Keating, played by the late Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society echo my sentiments towards the importance of liberal arts.

I am a graduate of Economics, who did his post-graduate diploma and Masters in Liberal Arts from Ashoka University. Being an ardent fan of Economics before venturing into liberal arts, I believed that Economics will provide me with all the answers I needed into solving the challenges of our time. Despite the supposed holistic approach towards the discipline of Economics, my undergraduate education still left me unsatisfied, ending up with me have a very single dimensional skewed perception of concepts like growth, markets, equity and other economic concepts. Being a sustainability fanatic, I used to think, why learn literature, political science, philosophy, art appreciation when economics holds the key to solve all the problems of sustainable development? I couldn’t be more wrong.

My venture into liberal arts at Ashoka University through the Young India Fellowship programme provided me with a multidisciplinary perspective which helped me navigate through my specialisation in Environmental Economics. I started loving learning again, and it provided me with a greater appreciation for what sustains life. A liberal arts education is not just education for employment, but an education for life. It provides a multi-faceted view of the world, providing tools to not just argue but understand different perspectives. It doesn’t teach you how to provide answers, but it teaches you how to ask questions. It teaches you that facts can be approached from different lenses and provides you with the intellectual curiosity which should fester in any leader.

A liberal arts education serves as a catalyst for the pursuit of knowledge in a non-linear fashion, and the academic insight to guide you through the multiple dimensions of every situation. It teaches you how to question, analyse and critique and that interpretation is more integral than acceptance of facts. As someone who specialized in Environmental Economics during my Masters in Liberal Arts, I realized the importance of a multidisciplinary perspective in what constitutes as sustainable development. In my Master’s thesis, I critiqued the single-dimensional approach taken by policy makers in crafting policies for sustainable development, and how contextual learning, locality-specific knowledge and indigenous learning is integral in solving the economic, social and environmental challenges of progress, which is again fuelled by a liberal arts education.

Information dissemination through a multidisciplinary approach becomes extremely important when intervening on an individual capacity. Very often information dispersion and awareness spreading is not done in an all-encompassing holistic format, but through a single disciplines lens, aimed towards short term unsustainable goals. The question of choice consciousness or the deep implications of individual actions, behaviours, values, identity and norms is better understood through engagement with the liberal arts. Critical thinking, questioning the status-quo and appreciation for the pursuit of all knowledge is also catalysed by indulgence in liberal arts.

I would gladly relive the 2 years of liberal arts education I was exposed to again, knowing that there is still so much more to learn and that the quest for knowledge is endless, exciting and enigmatic.



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