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The Gift of a Liberal Arts Education

Micaela Lumpkins, Staff Writer

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We are nearing registration time at Austin College and I know many upper-class men, like myself (and maybe some freshmen and sophomores, too), are scrambling around trying to make sure we hit all our degree requirements. Humanities Breadth: check. Science Breadth: check. Oh, no. I still need my quantitative reasoning class, not to mention all the classes we still need to take for our majors and minors (how many classes can I reasonably take in a semester again? Is six too many??). Unfortunately, many of us get carried away ticking off our boxes that we don’t appreciate the gift we have been given (or paying for): the gift of a liberal arts education.

As an incoming transfer student from a much larger state school, I value the liberal arts education, our core requirements, more than the average student. I hear people all the time talking about how upset they are they have to take another humanities course when they are majoring in biology. “When am I ever going to use this?” they say.

I don’t think AC students realize how much freedom they have. At my previous school of about 18,000 students, every single person had to take Political Science 131 and 132, theory and practice of American and Texan government, respectively. They were taught in giant auditoriums crowded with upwards of 300 people each. The white boards had to be projected on overhead screens so people in the back could see what the professor was writing. Only a few people at the very front of the class ever gave feedback to the professor and it was as if the rest of us weren’t even there.

On the last day of the semester, I walked up to my professor and thanked him for giving entertaining lectures which kept me from falling asleep after lunch. He asked me my name and what section I was in because he literally could not place me in his class – despite the fact I was one of the one’s who spoke up.

This sort of structure accounted for maybe 20% of the core curriculum. There were core classes everyone took with much smaller sections, such as Communications 110, Public Speaking. But it was still the same course everyone had to take to graduate. The other portions of the requirements included broader categories with a few specific classes you could choose from. For example, you needed a fine arts credit, but that could come from Art Appreciation, Art History, Music Appreciation, Theater Appreciation, or History of Theater. Keep in mind, an actual art or music class, like painting or band, did not count (much to my band nerd chagrin).

At Austin College, you have the freedom to choose what classes you take: nothing is strictly prescribed. There is not one class all students at AC have taken – even CIs have different sections with different subjects. The Humanities, Social Sciences, and Science breadths can be met by many different classes. Humanities range from history courses to language courses to art courses. If you hate math, take a computer science or philosophy of logic class for your quantitative reasoning requirement. If you hate science, you can take a non-lab science class that’s more about the history of science than actual computations. There is so much room to wiggle at AC.

Beyond the plethora of choices AC gives you, the classes themselves are also really unique. I have a friend whose biggest class consists of 17 people. I, myself, have one class of only five. This allows us all more room to learn and ask questions, and make sure we understand the material by interacting without professors. This is a luxury I did not always have before I came here.

Besides the practicality of the liberal arts set up, the larger implications of it don’t escape me either. While many students still complain about having to take yet another science course, I’m aware having a good foundation in a variety of subjects is going to not only make me better at any future job I have – it is also going to make me a better person.

I am a classics major so don’t be surprised I’m about to take us back to Roman times. In the Ancient Roman Republic, education wasn’t sitting in a classroom learning how to do math problems and answer questions succinctly in an essay of five paragraphs. Education back then consisted of learning philosophy (how to think), rhetoric (so you could tell people what you thought), and Greek (so you could tell more people what you thought).

The point of education, as the Romans saw it, was to make you a good citizen of the Roman Republic. This meant you were able to come up with your own ideas and express them well, you understood and participated in the political process, and you lived a cultured life that less educated (and less wealthy – which often went hand in hand at that time) Romans didn’t get to. Our concept of a liberal arts education is based on this culture and this form of schooling. A liberal arts education isn’t one that prepares you to do one job. It is an education that prepares you to be a good, well rounded person who can think for yourself and fully understand the world in which you live.

We often think of college as a stepping stone to our future careers, and it is still very much that way at AC. But I think more than that AC is trying to give us the foundations we need to be good people in the world and not just good teachers or doctors or business people. In my opinion, this is a noble goal and I will willingly allow myself to be molded in this fashion. As a citizen of this state, country, and the world as a whole I think I owe it to myself to be the best I can – especially when I already attend a school that wants to help me do so.

So as you register for your spring classes – remember you are fortunate to go to this school and to be receiving this liberal arts education, and this is your chance to become the best person you can.

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The student news site of Austin College
The Gift of a Liberal Arts Education