By MARY HOOD HART
Thumbing through Fortune magazine, I was startled to see the headline: “Wanted: Liberal Arts Grads.” A survey conducted by colleges in Geneva, New York, suggests that CEOs value a liberal arts education more than most of us realize. Indeed, 90 percent of CEOs surveyed believe a liberal arts education is essential to acquiring critical thinking abilities, and 77 percent saw liberal arts as a great way to develop problem solving abilities. In contrast, most parents and their college-age kids (75 percent and 85 percent respectively) aren’t as impressed with a liberal arts education. Unlike the CEOs, they believe the purpose of college is to get a practical education. They view college as a means to an end: a decent job immediately after graduation.
I can sympathize with parents and college students. Higher education is so expensive, it’s not surprising they expect something tangible
As a parent, I’m encouraging my own children to appreciate the importance of liberal arts in their education. Fortunately, I have a lot of help. My middle-school age children have been blessed with a wonderful English teacher who, besides expecting them to know composition and grammar, develops in them an appreciation of literature and creative writing. My daughter’s eighth grade class put on a mock trial based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The trial was to determine whether or not the narrator of the story was insane when he murdered his landlord. While the mock trial took some liberties with the story, it was a memorable way for the students to apply the psychology of Poe’s story to contemporary society and its criminal justice system.
In addition to listening to discussions of literature, this same teacher organizes a Young Authors program that, last year, included 400 students, grades five through eight. Each submits a portfolio of written work to be judged by a panel of teachers. Students with the winning entries are awarded trophies and ribbons for their writing. All participants attend a reception, where some are asked to read their work aloud. In the audience, I noticed how proud and serious each student was when called to the podium to read. For many, this exercise in creative writing became an opportunity to develop self-confidence in public speaking as well.
In addition to English teachers, many others are enriching children’s lives with instruction in music, art, drama, dance. In an age when so much emphasis is placed on technology and its applications, it’s heartening to know children are still encouraged to develop their natural gifts and express themselves artistically. I never fail to be impressed with the year-end recitals and shows young students present under the guidance of their gifted teachers. Too often, these teachers and their efforts go unheralded because the results can’t be measured by achievement tests and academic honors. However, their contributions to our children’s lives are more significant than many of us realize. While most children are not destined for fame in music, theater, or art, they are enriched simply by being exposed to the arts. Sadly, this exposure is the first thing sacrificed when budget cuts loom. Yet when our schools lose the arts, they lose more than enrichment. Often, the child who finds success elusive in a traditional classroom setting blossoms under the guidance of a gifted and enthusiastic teacher of the arts.
Recently, at my daughter’s eighth grade graduation, the advanced handbell choir, directed by a dynamic music teacher, performed “Pomp and Circumstance” and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Memory.” Included in this choir were the school’s star athletes, honor society members, and others whose scholastic or athletic abilities go unnoticed. Apart from the diversity of their skills, what they all had in common was a most uncommon gift
Mary Hood Hart lives in Calabash, N.C., with her husband, Jim, and their four children, ages 6 to 14. In addition to The Miscellany, Hart is a columnist for The Mirror, diocesan newspaper of Springfield Girardeau, Mo.