May 24th, 2014
09:56 AM ET

Why the liberal arts matter

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By Fareed Zakaria

It's graduation season in the United States, which means the season of commencements speeches – a time for canned jokes and wise words. This year I was asked to do the honors at Sarah Lawrence in New York, a quintessential liberal arts college. So I thought it was worth talking about the idea of a liberal arts education – which is under serious attack these days.

The governors of Texas, Florida and North Carolina have all announced that they do not intended to spend taxpayer money subsidizing the liberal arts.Florida’s Governor, Rick Scott, asks, “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don't think so.” Even President Obama recently urged students to keep in mind that a technical training could be more valuable than a degree in art history.

I can well understand the concerns about liberal arts because I grew up in India in the 1960s and ‘70s. A technical training was seen as the key to a good career. If you were bright, you studied science, so that’s what I did.

But when I got to America for college, I quickly saw the immense power of a liberal education.For me, the most important use of it is that it teaches you how to write. In my first year in college, I took an English composition course. My teacher, an elderly Englishman with a sharp wit and an even sharper red pencil, was tough.

I realized coming from India, I was pretty good at taking tests, at regurgitating stuff I had memorized, but not so good at expressing my own ideas. Now I know I'm supposed to say that a liberal education teaches you to think but thinking and writing are inextricably intertwined. When I begin to write, I realize that my "thoughts" are usually a jumble of half-baked, incoherent impulses strung together with gaping logical holes between them.

Whether you’re a novelist, a businessman, a marketing consultant or a historian, writing forces you to make choices and it brings clarity and order to your ideas. If you think this has no use, ask Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.

Bezos insists that his senior executives write memos – often as long as six printed pages. And he begins senior management meetings with a period of quiet time – sometimes as long as 30 minutes – while everyone reads the memos and makes notes on them.

Whatever you do in life, the ability to write clearly, cleanly and, I would add, quickly, will prove to be an invaluable skill.

The second great advantage of a liberal education is that it teaches you how to speak and speak your mind. One of the other contrasts that struck me between school in India and college in America was that an important part of my grade was talking.My professors were going to judge me on the process of thinking through the subject matter and presenting my analysis and conclusions – out loud. Speaking clearly and concisely is a big advantage in life.

The final strength of a liberal education is that it teaches you how to learn – to read in a variety of subjects, find data, analyze information. Whatever job you take, I guarantee that the specific stuff you will have learned at college, whatever it is, will prove mostly irrelevant or quickly irrelevant. Even if you learned to code but did it a few years ago, before the world of apps, you would have to learn to code anew. And given the pace of change that is transforming industries and professions these days, you will need that skill of learning and retooling all the time.

These are liberal education's strengths and they will help you as you move through your working life. Of course, if you want professional success, you will have to put in the hours, be focused and disciplined, work well with others, and get lucky. But that would be true for anyone, even engineers.

Anyway, that is a piece of the graduation talk I gave at Sarah Lawrence College on Friday. You can watch the whole thing – which has much more – online here.

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Topics: Education • GPS Show • Ideas • What in the World?

soundoff (268 Responses)
  1. nonPCrealist

    Why the liberal arts matter: Every generation needs managers at fast food restaurants and shift supervisors at Walmart.

    May 25, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Reply
  2. timelord7202

    Christine O'Donnell, a Republican, has a liberal arts degree – reported when she graduated, so why her comrades keep saying the degrees are like "basket weaving" does her as much injustice as anyone else.

    The real issue isn't the course, but the cost. Education makes people more educated, but it doesn't make them more prosperous. Cynics came up with articles like "The Education Scam", which I don't entirely agree with, but can't entirely disagree with either...

    May 25, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Reply
    • Vulcanizer355

      Basket weaving is a fluff degree.

      But underwater basket weaving ? Now you're talking..... earth shattering potential.

      And do not get me started on underwater basket weaving paired with flower arrangement – do not go there. Quite simply nothing like it. Nobel prize assured.

      May 25, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Reply
  3. IpseCogita

    So he's encouraging people to major in unemployment?

    May 25, 2014 at 12:31 pm | Reply
    • MFT59

      why do people read in such a black and white way? That's not what he said. What he said was: Do not dismiss the importance of Liberal Arts education because as much as the society needs doctors, lawyers, engineers, MBAs and comuter scientist, there is a great need for people who can write, interpret history, understand psychology and sociology, etc. Even those who go on to study Latin (in mind of the mediocre public, that is a 'dead' language) or Greek or linguistics, there is huge need in any society for such majors. Can you imagine a society as black and white as lawyers, engineers and doctors? They will go on suing themselves, cutting and pasting the bodies, suing more and write programs and build bridges without any ethical boundries! Good Luck Texas!

      May 25, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Reply
      • Umm

        Ummm, other majors also require writing and reading. "Speaking clearly and concisely" works for Zakaria because he is a talking head on TV.

        May 25, 2014 at 3:13 pm |
      • John Hunkler

        The truth is, liberal arts are not really needed....that is why liberal arts professors have infected most programs with their liberal arts classes. While writing is appreciation is not. History classes are mainly an attempt to twist history...not interpret it. the legal system is a cancer all its own...but LAW is in fact a liberal arts degree.

        No...liberal arts classes can be done away with for the most part.

        May 25, 2014 at 3:26 pm |
  4. robert

    There has been a great deal of coverage recently on the poor performance of our students in math and science; “the STEM Crisis”.
    Scientists, technicians, engineers, and mathematicians have IQ’s in the range of 94-103 (technicians) and 114 (Life Sciences) to 133 (Physics & Astronomy).
    This places scientists, engineers, and mathematicians approximatelyfx in the range of 18% to 1% of the IQ distribution. So, only about 17% of students have the ability to succeed as scientists, engineers or mathematicians. Technicians IQ range from 94-103, so a career as a technician is open to many more people.
    Math skills are obviously critical to anyone contemplating a career in mathematics. Mathematics is the language of physics. Any high school student who aspires to a career in math or physics should be excellent in math. And there are other careers (Economics, Engineering, Operations Research, and Actuarial Science where math skills are important) but somewhat less so then math or physics. In 2012, STEM employed just 6% of the total workforce. So, about 11% of the workforce could have a career in STEM but choose not to.
    The careers of economics, humanities & art, banking & finance, religion & theory, history, library & archival sciences, architecture, social science, agriculture, sociology and business, orthodontist, podiatrist, attorney, pharmacist, commercial airline pilot, financial planner, optometrist, economist, school principal, physician assistant, and veterinarian also pull from this same 17% of students.
    In 2012, STEM employed just 6% of the total workforce.
    If you look at the most popular non-STEM majors among the nine UC campuses, they are Agricultural Business and Management, Anatomy, Art Film/Video, Business, Communications Studies, Criminology, Economics, English, Environmental Design, Global Studies, History, Human Relations, Interdisciplinary Studies, International Relations, Legal Studies, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Management Science, Political Science, Psychology and Sociology.
    And the skills required are for these majors are soft skills, e.g., analytical, communication, creative, critical thinking, global knowledge, interpersonal relations, language, leadership, project /program management, motivating people, organizational, partnerships, problem solving, public presentation, relationships, research, spoken communication, teamwork, time-management, writing and reading.
    It is true that people in non-STEM careers earn about 26% less than those in STEM; $65,285 and $90,508 respectively. While this might not have much effect on the car you drive, it does make a considerable difference in where you can live and how much house you can afford. In California, these salaries will buy a house of $561k and $920k in Danville and Orinda respectively. Orinda is certainly a lovely community, but there is nothing wrong with Danville.
    Before we completely revamp our school system to produce an army of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, we should consider what our world would be like without humanities & art, banking & finance, law, education and medicine!
    To quote former Secretary of HEW John W. Gardner. “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water. “

    May 25, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Reply
    • purplestikypunch

      Your "data" on IQs (IQ tests being a measure only of specific academic intelligence, not general) is laughable and your conclusion on their superiority unfounded. Einstein never had his IQ measured, and despite the brilliant theory of relativity, he struggled to pass liberal arts courses. All are needed, and equally important.

      May 25, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Reply
      • robert

        All what are needed? The correlation between IQ and occupational success are well known?

        May 25, 2014 at 2:34 pm |
      • John Hunkler

        Actually, IQ tests are notoriously NON-academic. Try taking one before proclaiming to be an expert.

        May 25, 2014 at 3:51 pm |
      • Baad Dog

        You are putting the cart before horse. There is better correlation between LOW intelligence and LACK of success.

        May 25, 2014 at 7:06 pm |
      • Jangus

        IQ tests have nothing to do with academic knowledge.

        May 26, 2014 at 10:26 am |
  5. Wsquared58

    Liberal Arts comprises a whole spectrum of degree programs. Some valuable, some not so much. The reason teachers and many other holders of liberal arts degrees get paid dirt is because there are too many of them out there. It is a buyers market when it comes to liberal arts majors.
    Somewhere along the line, we forgot that going to college was about getting a marketable education. Now it is just about going to college.
    There are so many liberal arts graduates out there that while they confirm the fact that a college degree gets you more money, it is the difference between being the burger flipper and the manager of a McDonalds.
    I'm not sure about the rest of you, but I would aspire for my child to be more than a manager at a Starbucks or American Eagle Outfitters.
    You don't need a liberal arts education to learn how to write and speak. All you need to do is read voraciously.
    The flip side is that it is a sellers market in the technical trades. Get a technical engineering degree and the sky is the limit. You can pick where you want to work and for who.
    In the article where it is quoted as "Do we really need more anthropologists?" I think that point is that the state should spend its money where they get the most bang for the buck.
    If it is a choice between spending the money on Liberal Arts, or Science education, we should be spending it on science.
    We hire folks every day that have liberal arts degrees, that were in all likelihood a total waste of their parents money, as we are a technical based operation, and the arts degree doesn't even come in to play in our hiring decisions.

    As a society, and as individuals, should not forget that a degree is a marketable item just like any other. Make too many of anything, and its value decreases. Value equates to pay in this instance.

    May 25, 2014 at 12:41 pm | Reply
    • Michael

      Actually, the universities are historically the repository of the cutting edge of human knowledge and were dedicated the the expansion of that knowledge. Going to college used to be about the study of that knowledge for its own sake and to engage in that research. Only after the passage of the GI bill in the 1940s, when all veterans were subsidized to go back to college with the aim of learning new skills, did the idea of college as being related to marketable skills even take off. The idea today that college is about jobs is fundamentally dangerous to society as it constrains research and the expansion of knowledge, which is what the university is supposed to represent. If you are going to a university to pick up a marketable skill, you probably won't do very well.

      May 25, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Reply
      • Vulcanizer355

        I'm going to have to disagree with that, from my personal experience. A person with a job and career focus will almost definitely do better than someone who goes to college to "discover themselves".

        Before you study something at college, ask yourself "Is there a market for this" – of course it needs to be something you like doing or can tolerate doing, else you won't do it for long.

        You may really, really like flower arrangement studies but unfortunately it doesn't pay well.

        May 25, 2014 at 12:58 pm |
      • robert

        Lastly, one of my wise tennis playing buddies made the statement “Find something you truly love doing, that way you will never feel like you are going to work”. I would add, make sure it pays a living wage.

        May 25, 2014 at 2:35 pm |
      • Floretta

        Maybe I'm just too old – I went to college in the late 1960s and college was not primarily about "marketable skills." If that's all you want, learn a trade and save your money. A good plumber or mechanic is worth his or her weight in gold. FWIW I married a former glazier who spent his working years as a general mechanic and supported the family well, as did I with a B.A. in English and master's in what used to be called Library Science. Never had much use for the math and science classes I had but they ALL added to my research skills and came in handy when I wrote and edited articles and reviews as part of my work. Funny enough. our earth science professor was thrilled to have a couple of English majors in her class as we were the only ones who could write clear, logical and concise lab reports (I suspect I get graded slightly higher just on that alone.) It's not the degree, it's what you do with it.

        May 25, 2014 at 3:30 pm |
      • rp1588

        Your timing is way off when it comes to the spread of colleges dedicated to education for specific job categories. The first normal school (to educate teachers) in USA dates back to 1839. Engineering and mining colleges go way back, and so do agricultural colleges. Military academies are hardly post-WW2, although the USAF academy is later due to organizational change. There are music and arts colleges that are quite old, too, along with medical and law schools.

        I would not be the least bit surprised if the development of the US college and US university system in the entire 100 years before WW2 was led by the need for job oriented post secondary education, and liberal arts went along for the ride.

        May 25, 2014 at 4:32 pm |
      • Michael

        Rp1588, the Military Academies are classifeid as Liberal Arts colleges, becuase most of their students graduate with liberal arts degrees because the militaries recognize that is what is required of modern military officers, not just engineers. Than Douglas MacArthur for that innovation. And no, I don't claim this to be an original idea as it is an existing model, we just need to encourage more people looking for specific 'marketable skills' to see the value in those pays instead. Virtually every school that today has the word 'State' in it started as a teacher college/normal school with that as a general purpose, because it was a very different function from the main research university. We have conflated this stuff way too much, to the detriment of academia in the name of subsidizing private jobs training.

        May 25, 2014 at 4:48 pm |
    • Cheryl

      I have a liberal arts degree in education and now earn a generous salary in corporate America. Not everyone has a mathematical or scientific bent and many liberal arts studies translate well to the business world.

      May 25, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Reply
  6. brainwashedinchurch

    The Sociology 2.4 GPA kegger frat boy from Cal State Nowhere makes twice as much cruising through on 35 hour weeks as a sales weasel than the guy doing 55 hour weeks with an MS in Electrical Engineering from UC Santa Barbara and who is laid off every couple years.

    May 25, 2014 at 12:41 pm | Reply
    • purplestikypunch

      Money alone is no measure of success. The sociologist might do more humanitarian work, and solve social issues, which don't just come with a paycheck.

      May 25, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Reply
      • commenter

        Ah, the old "children starving in Africa" argument. There have, and will always be, children starving in Africa. Giving them "food for thought" by teaching them about Nelson Mandela's biography or the sociology of Western colonialism isn't going to fill their stomachs. Instead you need engineers to install mass grids so that they can get hooked up to the Internet and learn to write code. Yeah, maybe it'll be for pennies on the dollar, but who knows, maybe someday there'll be a Google coming out of Zimbabwe that wipes our American Google off the map. Programs like Doctors Without Borders are important. Programs that teach art, meh, not so much. Plus, what good is it to work to provide food for millions of people who can't put food on their own tables if you can't put food on your own? Get a REAL job and the hell with these bullhockey humanitarian organizations that more often than not are scams that give more money to their "nonprofit" CEOs and celebrity pitchmen than they ever will the grunts doing the work or the actual people they're supposed to help. United Way after 9/11, anyone? Red Cross after Sandy?

        July 23, 2014 at 3:45 pm |
    • rp1588

      Some 2.4 sociology majors at modest level schools are doing well in sales. But, a lot more of them are at Target. Only a small fraction of those in sales make as much as low level engineers.

      May 25, 2014 at 4:35 pm | Reply
  7. Paul

    I think there's a big difference between a liberal arts EDUCATION and a liberal arts CAREER, the latter of which is usually criticized. It is important for people to be able to reason and think critically which taking some liberal arts courses can help with, but let's face it: becoming an English professor and writing didactic analyses of Shakespeare is objectively worth less than the work of scientists and engineers.

    May 25, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Reply
  8. Wes

    I believe high school education should be good enough to learn all that Fareed mentioned that is how to write, speak and learn..after that people should make wise decision about a career choices..

    May 25, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Reply
    • Michael

      And from where will we get people to teach those skills in high school?

      May 25, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Reply
      • Floretta

        Forget high school – we used to learn these things in grade school. Expectations were higher then, I guess. I can still make change in my head faster than any cash register – rote memorization has its place. We read a LOT more, both in school and at home (and yes, we had television in the old days though I do slightly pre-date Fred Flinstone, lol.)

        May 25, 2014 at 3:36 pm |
  9. Corey

    I work in a blue-collar job obtained through a technical college course of 2 years. My wage places me in the top 1% of the population for pay. All too often I see young men I work with who actually believe they are deserving of this distinction. I am thankful for what I have, but I also realize I was simply lucky to chose the right field at the right time.
    When I abandoned university just before the start of my 4th year I railed against liberal arts as I saw them as a waste of time. Now that I am older I realize anything of importance that I learned was in the liberal arts! Thank-you to my philosophy professor for spending the entire first class of 101 telling the story of Socrates and the Oracle of Delphi. These types of lessons I learned from liberal arts have guided my life.

    Most conservatives should also revisit the definition of democracy, as it is NOT majority rule. It is majority rule WITH RESPECT FOR THE MINORITY, and had they paid attention in liberal arts,they would know this.

    Although I may not agree with your opinion, I would truly fight to my death for your right to express it freely.

    May 25, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Reply
    • Leetlib

      Since when did conservatives believe that democracy equals majority rule?

      Your philosophy teacher should have taught you that generalizations are fallacies.

      May 25, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Reply
      • sjones581

        You meant to say generalizations are sometimes fallacies.

        May 25, 2014 at 3:14 pm |
  10. Tony Phillips

    I am confused by Mr. Zakaria! What do you want? One day you talk about how bad U.S. schools are and how public schools are failing kids in STEM programs, then the next day your paid to give a commencement speech and liberal arts are the greatest thing since sliced bread! Which is it Mr. Zakaria? Is the U.S. doomed, do we need more STEM graduates or do we need more liberal arts graduates? YOU ARE A MAN OF MANY CONTRADICTORY STATEMENTS!

    May 25, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Reply
    • Vulcanizer355

      Good ol' Zeke – he fills out a rambling column of about 1000 words and doesn't care what he says one week to the next – must not be in the contract with CNN 😉

      May 25, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Reply
  11. jvance83

    The broader education that comes with liberal arts provides enlightenment into a world that is complex and that cannot be clearly discerned from a single perspective, no matter how precise and accurate that perspective may be. Knowledge isn't just power, it is inherently good when properly utilized.

    May 25, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Reply
  12. ashish

    Very helpful. I was struggling to improve my writing skills and now I have a clearer picture. Thank you.

    May 25, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Reply
    • Vulcanizer355

      Writing is important, but spellivgs ar mach mor importent 😉

      May 25, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Reply
  13. toydrum

    I agree with a lot of this article, but I would further emphasize that this only applies to course that are truly part of the classic liberal arts spectrum. Not everything now lumped together under the "liberal arts" banner in many universities could actually be considered broad or deep enough to be part of the liberal arts - and in some cases is actually more indoctrination than education.

    A classical liberal arts education was about mastering the subjects needed to be a fully versed citizen - grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. There are different interpretations of what the modern equivalents of those subjects would be but - at the absolute minimum - they should include writing, logic, mathematics, science, music and history. The first 4 seem obvious as critical subjects to both fully understand and to work well in the world around us. I keep music included because it has been found to be a sort of catalyst for improvement in the other areas. I add history in order to give context and meaning to what we see in our daily life - human behavior follows patterns; if you can't understand how you got where we are, you will be thrown about on the tides wondering what might happen next and unable to plan intelligently for the future.

    Others might add subjects like philosophy or surveys of world religions or cultures. What other subjects might be important and why?

    May 25, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Reply
    • dgatwood

      I'd go farther than that and include the arts in general, for the same reason you gave for music. Whether you're talking about music, art, dance, theater, etc., it serves as a catalyst for change in much the same way that good writing does.

      And as for the Florida governor's question of whether it is a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists, the answer is clearly yes. Anthropology studies both modern and ancient cultures, teaching us more about why groups of humans behave in the ways that they do. Ultimately, that understanding is the key to solving all sorts of problems, from crime to homelessness. So yes, it is of vital interest to the state.

      More to the point, the very fact that the governor of a state would ask that question demonstrates why a hundred years ago, women and blacks didn't have the right to vote—why people today come out of school saying things like "I don't believe the holocaust happened" or "Being gay is a choice" or "People are poor because of bad decisions" or any of the other epic failures in grasping reality that we've seen over the past few decades. It's because there aren't enough anthropologists.

      May 25, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Reply
  14. kennyzales

    As someone who majored in English (writing emphasis) and experienced the toils and torments of unemployment for extended periods, I respectively disagree with Fareed. I believe that the life skills of writing, critical thinking and idea expression should be skills acquired in high school rather than at the university level. Universities should cater more to advanced knowledge and skills geared toward gainful employment.

    May 25, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Reply
    • rp1588

      I agree, but too many high schools have standards too low, and even the AP English courses are oriented toward employing people with an education in literature, as opposed to dealing with how to read and write nonfiction, which is far more important.

      However, a HS grad should be able to get there with a the equivalent of a one year college course, at 1/5th a typical college full course load. It is just that the course needs to emphasize the right things.

      May 25, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Reply
  15. LennyBE

    I agree that critical thinking and writing skills are very important to a person's intellectual development, but I question the assertion that these skills alone are adequate to function well in a modern world. One must have basic knowledge before one can use critical thinking to reason and come to conclusions based upon that knowledge.
    Everyone should acquire basic knowledge about liberal arts, science, mathematics and technology. I do not think that one can function optimally in a world that depends on complex technology without having at least a basic grasp of physics, mathematics, chemistry and biology. One cannot understand our place in the universe without having some exposure to astronomy and cosmology. To understand politics and interpersonal relationships one should know something about history, philosophy, psychology and neuroscience. To fully appreciate the beauty of our world it is necessary to be exposed to art, theatre and music.
    I think that we should work to make undergraduate education less expensive so that everyone who wants to can have a general education before deciding on a career path or area of specialization. This does not have to be done by traditional means, but can employ online learning strategies which are less expensive and more easily accessible. It makes no sense to argue about the relative importance of different academic disciplines, as we would all be better off to become educated in diverse areas before we specialize. Education is not just about career training.

    May 25, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Reply
  16. conoclast

    We'll just have to find another word for it; "liberal arts" just won't work any more. The word "liberal" instantly makes our right-wing bretheren snot-slinging crazy; fools that they are they've probably convinced themselves that Liberal Arts is the study of communism!

    May 25, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Reply
    • Vulcanizer355

      "Barista Arts" ? "Progressive Arts" ? "Living wage arts" ? "noble poverty arts" ?

      May 25, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Reply
    • rhea3

      All the more reason to use the honorable term "liberal arts." It comes from the Latin for "free person." I am a liberal arts graduate and a political liberal, and I'd proud to admit to both.

      May 25, 2014 at 4:29 pm | Reply
  17. GetReal

    The LA Times just published this article a few days ago ...

    Only 2 percent of companies are hiring from liberal arts colleges.

    May 25, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Reply
    • Michael

      You're confusing liberal arts colleges with liberal arts major. Problem1. Problem 2 is the article you link to has the primary focus of showing the disconnect between the skills companies need and the degrees they say they are working for, the implication being that companies are looking for the wrong thing. This is ultimately self-destructive because numbers like that are driving politicians to dump the liberal arts majors on the grounds 'businesses don't want them,' when the challenge is businesses really do want them. This points to the challenge Fareed is trying to address, selling businesses on their need for liberal arts majors, while selling students on the continuing value of a liberal arts education.

      May 25, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Reply
    • Veritas

      Harvard is a Liberal Arts school. Do you think many of their graduates are having a hard time starting a career?

      May 25, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Reply
      • HM8432

        I once hired a guy from Harvard. Huge mistake. He was incredibly book-smart, but had ZERO common sense. Then again, I have to remind myself that the Bush's and Obama's of the world...people who irreparably messed-up our country, ALL came from Ivy League schools! The guy who replaced him came from a state school, and he did just fine in our organization.

        May 25, 2014 at 2:53 pm |
  18. beancounterz

    Next. Learn from your edits. I often go back to look at my first thoughts written and compare them to what appears in the current version. I have been able to cut down on the number of edits, but more important, I have learned what spews out of my mouth at first chance and have learned to partially tame a potential demon.
    Next Plus One: You learn other peoples viewpoint and that NOT EVERYBODY THINKS LIKE YOU DO.

    May 25, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  19. Bill

    Liberal arts matter because we need SOMEONE to ask "do you want fries with that?"

    May 25, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Reply
    • purplestikypunch

      That's your brain dead loser response to people getting higher educations? Clearly you didn't follow lead.

      May 25, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Reply
  20. garypsmith321

    A liberal arts degree is a joke, even mickey D's is looking at robots to replace them. The robots will be clean, polite, and they'll be able to tally the order correctly, with no unwashed hair in your food.

    May 25, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Reply
  21. purplestikypunch

    My friend has a degree in chemical engineering and has a very high paying job he hates, creating makeup. Just food for thought.

    May 25, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Reply
    • Mark

      Anecdotal evidence rules the day again. This is the last work in the debate. Thanks to everyone for playing. Nothing more need be said on the matter.

      May 25, 2014 at 3:49 pm | Reply
  22. Veritas

    Lest we forget, the word "Liberal" is Latin for "to be free".

    I don't understand why that vernacular has such a negative connotation in the United States of America.

    May 25, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Reply
  23. ME

    Liberal arts education is important because the fast food industry needs workers.

    May 25, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Reply
  24. wjm980

    Fine Fareed, then you can pay the endless money to support these permanently unemployed people.

    May 25, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Reply
  25. ug

    Who in the heck says it matters! it does not matter and it is all bs from the left to see and make things happen like they are all on crack...the only thing that matters is God and his son...the rest doesn't matter...

    May 25, 2014 at 2:27 pm | Reply
  26. squawk

    Well, Fareed Zakaria thinks that the proof that liberal arts matter is because he got a liberal arts education and he became an important journalist. That is the exception, not the rule. Jeff Bezos makes his managers write essays. That is the exception, not the rule. A liberal arts education apparently frees the student from the rules of logic.

    The question here is whether state governments should be subsidizing liberal arts educations, not whether liberal arts educations should be banned. Everyone agrees governments should be saving money, but whatever expense is placed on the cutting board immediately draws a criticism from someone, somewhere. No surprise that a commencement address at a liberal arts college should emphasize the importance of a liberal arts education. No surprise that a chunk of this commencement address should serve double duty as a CNN column. We all know this columnist has difficulty managing his time and meeting assignments, and this is a better way of dealing with the problem than others he has tried.

    May 25, 2014 at 2:37 pm | Reply
  27. Engineer in Raleigh

    A lot of liberal arts graduates write poorly. Long treatises full of elevated language and complex semantic structures may make you sound smart, but they are a bad way to communicate.

    That is especially true in this day and age, where people are constantly bombarded with information. Stick to fundamentals. Keep it simple.

    May 25, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Reply
    • rp1588

      I agree.

      The best writing class I took, by far, was in a factory. It was called Effective Writing. It took, at most, 20 hours total spread over multiple weeks.

      May 25, 2014 at 4:47 pm | Reply
  28. andres

    Fareed, Don't know what engineering school you went to, but here in the US we engineers were NOT taught to memorize and regurgitate, we were taught to UNDERSTAND the science behind the concepts and then were expected to APPLY it. But I do believe that all students are lacking in one VERY important aspect and that is Critical Thinking a class you clearly missed.

    May 25, 2014 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  29. Mark

    "The governors of Texas, Florida and North Carolina have all announced that they do not intended to spend taxpayer money subsidizing the liberal arts."

    Can the liberal arts major spot the poor grammar in the sentence above? Can a CNN editor?

    May 25, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Reply
  30. Mark

    "When I begin to write, I realize that my "thoughts" are usually a jumble of half-baked, incoherent impulses strung together with gaping logical holes between them."

    Not unlike now.

    May 25, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Reply
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