With the rise of technical education–even at the University level–there has been some concern about what happens to liberal education (which I use interchangeably with liberal arts, though the two are not precisely identical). VDH has some strong words about the decline of the liberal arts and how modern technology represents, in some ways, a devolution:
Citizens — shocked and awed by technological change — become overwhelmed by the Internet, cable news, talk radio, video games and popular culture of the moment. Without links to our past heritage, we in ignorance begin to think our own modern challenges ….
And without citizens broadly informed by humanities, we descend into a pyramidal society. A tiny technocratic elite on top crafts everything from cell phones and search engines to foreign policy and economic strategy. A growing mass below lacks understanding of the present complexity and the basic skills to question what they are told. … pragmatists argued that our future CEOs needed to learn spread sheets at 20 rather than why Homer’s Achilles does not receive the honors he deserved, or how civilization was lost in fifth-century Rome and 1930s Germany. Yet Latin or a course in rhetoric might better teach a would-be captain of industry how to dazzle his audience than a class in Microsoft PowerPoint.
The more instantaneous our technology, the more we are losing the ability to communicate with it. Twitter and text-messaging result in an economy of expression, not in clarity or beauty. Millions are becoming premodern — communicating in electronic grunts that substitute for the ability to express themselves effectively and with dignity. Indeed, by inventing new abbreviations and linguistic shortcuts, we are losing a shared written language altogether, much like the fragmentation of Latin as the Roman Empire imploded into tribal provinces. ….Life is not just acquisition and consumption. Engaging English prose uplifts the spirit in a way Twittering cannot. The latest anti-Christ video shown at the National Portrait Gallery by the Smithsonian will fade when the Delphic Charioteer or Michelangelo’s David does not. Appreciation of the history of great art and music fortifies the soul, and recognizes beauty that does not fade with the passing fad.
America has lots of problems. A population immersed in and informed by literature, history, art and music is not one of them.