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Dying for the Liberal Arts

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By Konstantin Brizhnichenko – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=94581459

This wonderful essay has been hanging around in my tabs for far too long:

For three-quarters of a century, historians have sorted through the “war aims” of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Hideki Tojo, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin. In college and graduate school, and in a lifetime of reading, I have examined much of that scholarship. But for Americans, the war was also about more than carefully stated aims—it was about far simpler things, really, but no less grand. Texaco had it right in a 1942 magazine advertisement that depicted a man carrying Army gear and saying, “I’m fighting for my right to boo the Dodgers.” Phil might have added that it was also about the right to feel joy pulling down a goalpost in a dreaded rival’s home stadium; the right to struggle with explaining in what respects Stendhal, Balzac, and Flaubert were realists; the right to get a C in English and a D in French.

I am reminded of a conversation I had while in Ukraine with an engineering professor… he wanted to make very clear to me that, having witnessed Russia’s efforts to destroy the university system (especially near Kharkiv) that the reconstruction of that system demanded attention to the liberal arts. It wouldn’t be enough for the next generation of Ukrainians to be educated in STEM and engineering in Central European universities, although those things would most certainly be necessary. It was also imperative that some understanding of the liberal arts persisted in the Ukrainian system of higher education, so that students could come to grip with what it meant to be human, what it meant to be Ukrainian, and what the relationship between those things could be. History and literature would be as important to the reconstruction of Ukraine as engineering. It struck me then and strikes me now as an awfully powerful way of thinking about the liberal arts, one that the Russians are trying to eradicate from Ukraine and that our own administrative and political class is utterly indifferent to.

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