The 60s and 70s in America was a period of social turbulence and rebellion. These two decades were taken over by the Vietnam War and Civil Rights protests; people tried to end the long running injustice towards African Americans and the thousands of deaths of American soldiers in the Vietnam War. The values that were passed on from the previous generation were not enough to solve the prevalent tension the country was facing; what came from this was the idea of ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’. The hippie movement also began, the same people rebelling also believed in peace and personal freedom. The 60s and 70s began an educational revolution as well, with the Free Speech Movement which started at UC Berkeley and the Free School Movement which tried to change the aims of regular schools to be more liberal and potentially beneficial for students.
The 21st century is comparable to the 60s and 70s in many ways. For one, both time periods had ongoing unpopular wars, with Vietnam in the 60s and 70s and Afghanistan in the early 21st century. There are still racial tensions; but to a far lesser extent. There is a significantly higher number of students who are receiving 4-year college degrees, with 12% of males and 7.1% of females obtaining a college degree in 1965 as compared to 32.3% of males and 32.7% of females in 2015; 50 years later. Homosexuality is also much more accepted in this day and age, with the recent Supreme Court ruling for the legalization of same-sex marriage all over the US.
A liberal arts education is defined as ‘a study of the subjects that are considered essential for a free person to know in order to take an active part in civic life’ A common misconception is that liberal arts education and liberal education are the same thing, which they are not. Liberal education is simply ‘an approach to college learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change.’ It is essential to note the difference between these two terms because liberal education is a way of learning while liberal arts education has more to do with crucial topics relevant to this period of this age. Liberal studies education does not teach students to be liberal, while liberal education may do this. Liberal studies education is prevalent in the United States today because it teaches students the perspectives and values that they would not quite pick up with a vocational education.
A question I always ask myself is ‘are liberal arts still relevant now?’ Art, literature and psychology are all interesting subjects- but is an analysis of Shakespeare’s Macbeth going to help me go about my daily life? Will it teach me any more than I know now? We are in the middle of a technological revolution; so why are we forced to study history when computer science is not a part of the core curriculum?
Vocational education, on the other hand, can be defined as ‘education that prepares people to work in a trade, a craft, as a technician or in jobs like engineering, accountancy, nursing, medicine, architecture or law.’ It is also sometimes known as technical education due to the specificity of the subject matter to the job that the individual studying will get afterwards. Because vocational education is limited to the profession one will pursue after graduation, it can be noted that one might not have an entirely well-rounded education. Getting a vocational education helps the student with certain skills that are invaluable in the job market these days, but they will lack the basic knowledge of the world around them unless they are proactive about learning about it on their own. It is highly possible that a vocational education can shut the world out. Higher salaries cannot justify the ignorance this entails. An example is Donald Trump, who graduated from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business with a BS degree in Economics. The vocational education that Trump had received from such a prestigious school does not mean that he is a liberal or empathetic person. He is known to be controversial and socially conservative; it could be argued by some that his views would hinder the growth and development of the United States. For example, Trump supports ‘traditional marriage’. In addition he has stated that he is opposed to gun control. Both ideas are of ever-changing opinion in America now, with widespread support for same-sex marriage and various incidents displaying the cons of civilian gun use.
For students in the 60s and 70s, a liberal studies education could work very well. The idea of taking subjects that help a person live their life as an active member of society would be a good one back then. This is because with all the tension present at the time, if people had a more understanding view of all the events around them- specifically the events in history that led to the protests that people were marching, and the sociology behind wars such as the Vietnam war, people might have been more informed and thus more empathetic towards others thus avoiding countless deaths of innocent civilians.
On the other hand, it might also have not worked out as well as people might think. This is because the 1960s inspired a huge influx of technological and scientific advances in America. Some of these were the landing of the Apollo 11 on the moon, the creation of the first female contraceptive pill and the production of various higher horse-powered cars than the previous decades. With this much change, it would only seem that it would be beneficial for the population to study a vocational education that could help lead to more scientific discovery and inventions.
The 21st century is definitely different from the 60s and 70s, as described before. Our social circumstances are rather unlike the ones back then, which is why undergraduate education can be debated to go in either direction today. Colleges across the country have both liberal arts education and vocational education, but most include at least some type of core class system that allows students to study various fields that are relevant in today’s world. Vocational education would give students hands on experience which is invaluable in the job market today, but limited learning flexibility so the student would not be able to study outside of the narrow subject matter that he or she is given. Many people could argue that vocational education would yield higher salaries, and while this is true, with this system you would be losing the chance to obtain diverse views that you would have learned otherwise. A liberal arts education would teach you to think analytically, which could prepare you for anything, be it a career in STEM, business or even history.
It is hard to say which one would be better in today’s society because they can both be put to use in the job market and maximum knowledge can be extracted out of either of them. A STEM or vocational education may be more relevant in terms of how the world has been developing but the question of which is more suitable arises when you think about the current social situation of our country. It’s undeniable that we’re facing problems such as international conflicts, hate crimes, and cybercrimes. Would a more detailed, well-rounded view of the world make us better global citizens?
In conclusion, in my opinion, a liberal arts education would serve better in either time period for the sole reason that it makes students less oblivious to what is going on around them. They would have a comprehensive view of our world, thereby allowing them to make more compassionate and informed judgements in addition to helping them become abler to think critically which is beneficial both in and out of the workplace.
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