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What’s happened to the liberal arts?

The liberal arts at American colleges "have been radically altered, both in format and function... What is being taught is no longer attuned to undergraduates looking for a broader and deeper understanding of the world." So write Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus in an interesting op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.

Hacker and Dreifus argue that the humanities departments still exist, but what is presented under those headings would be unrecognizable to previous generations. They write:

Consider Yale's description of a course it offered that dealt with how disabilities are depicted in fiction: "We will examine how characters serve as figures of otherness, transcendence, physicality or abjection. Later may come examination questions on regulative discourse, performativity and frameworks of intelligibility."

Fewer students are signing up for the liberal arts. But that's not just down to an increasing desire for more vocationally-oriented coursework that they believe will lead directly to a job. As Hacker and Dreifus note, students arrive as curious and open-minded as before, but they are turned off by irrelevant topics and faculties' pet projects. 

Hacker and Dreifus are the authors of the book Higher Education?, and they are on to something.

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