Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Tom Wolfe on the liberal arts

Promoting his latest book I am Charlotte Simmons, which takes place at a fictionalized Duke University, Tom Wolfe was on The State of Things today. Somehow his thoughts turned to trade school versus the liberal arts. He worries that colleges have turned into trade schools:

You’re not getting what was always known as a liberal arts education. I . . . had no idea what liberal arts meant. Finally I looked it up. It’s from the Latin “liber” which means “free.” In Roman times slaves could learn any type of schooling as long as it was only practical. They could take engineering, which was complicated but practical. They couldn’t take philosophy, theology, history, rhetoric. These were all the arts of persuasion. They didn’t want slaves to be able to deal with concepts that would lead them to say, We should be free. This is an immoral state that we are being kept in.

I wish I could tell every student: The arts of persuasion are the most powerful that you will ever have in your life. The student who takes computer sciences will make more money when you get out of college in the first five or six years, but when you get to be about age 30 and it’s time to move up . . . there are going to be people who have the arts of persuasion. They can do conversation on all sorts of subject matter, they can perform salesmanship and negotiations with fluency. It’s a big trap in college to be aimed for particular career.

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