A well-rounded education consists of a strong and thorough liberal arts program and an equally career-oriented education. These two areas enhance the other by developing visual literacy, intuition, and critical thinking in students and are all qualities important to employers. According to Harold M. Williams in his essay, “Don’t Ignore the Arts,” a balanced education of liberal arts and career development “…construct[s a] sound value system…” (191). The balance in education needs to begin no later than junior high school and continue throughout the education process. Even though it represents a valiant effort, college is too little and too late to attempt to instill a balanced education in anyone.
In order to absorb the most that education has to offer, students need a balance in education to appear from the beginning. Their exposure to language, mathematics, history, and science should be coupled with that of music (either singing or playing an instrument), visual arts (painting or sculpting), performing arts (dancing or acting), and being able to appreciate the art that their peers have created. Williams comments that, “It now is known, for instance, that involving students in analyzing works of art, whether their own or others, requires functioning at the highest cognitive levels of mental activity” (193). “Discipline-based art education” (193) appropriately combines intellect and art into a cultural experience.
The youth’s yearning for pop culture is a result of being bombarded with a career-dominant education. It has been a long time since I have passed a teenager reading a book for fun. Most of them are singing songs from the radio instead of creating their own or even trying to look like someone else, instead of embracing the people that they are. Their experience in required education is more training-based than artistic-based. The students need to be forced to have a balanced education. Williams believes that:
“The arts reaffirm humanity. They are the glue that holds society together. While improvement in the three R‘s [reading, writing and arithmetic] may enable Americans to compete more effectively in the world economically and technologically, they do not feed the human spirit. The most vital stages in the history of any society are marked by a flourishing of the arts. When most material goods have turned to dust, it is the arts that remain as testimony to the dreams and passions of the past.” (190)
Artistic education reaffirms the importance of coming together in order to be successful in this diverse world. Even if artistic endeavors are completed alone, when they are shared with peers, this immediately feeds the souls of students. A well-fed soul has the power to create the projects that a well-trained mind can bring to life. Artistic education offers students the opportunity to connect with their desires and goals; it also provides them with the confidence to continue working towards what they love. Students would benefit so much more from education if the majority of the artistic activities did not occur outside of enforced school hours.
The balance in education comes from having a fully-developed liberal arts education intertwined with extensive career training, starting in junior high. Academic subjects provide students with a strong foundation and a raw understanding of what they want their lives to become in terms of a profession. Students would not stumble onto a love of mathematics, history, or science without a passionate and competent instructor to show them the way. This general education format introduces students to a form of societal structure. As time goes on, students are given more specific information that presents itself in direct correlation to the career of their dreams. Without liberal arts to balance out career education, most students lose sight of their dreams and are left wandering aimlessly through the school system. An uninspired education process leads students to grow into goalless people who have to rely on others to provide them with direction throughout their lives.
Having an unbalanced education does not do students justice. I know that when I only had career-training classes, my grades were worse than when I coupled them with artistic classes. Williams discovered that “If students of the next century are to work and live productively side by side with others from different cultures, they must respect and appreciate cultural differences and, at the same time, discern what they share in common with other peoples. The arts [coupled with career training] are one of the best ways to achieve this practical goal” (194). Even if liberal arts classes put a strain on my work schedule, the positive results remained undiminished since my outlet is not only included in my balanced education, but I was able to fully-focus on each college class that I had worked so hard to attend. Because of this, I am eager and accepting of what life has to offer me. It is amazing how taking artistic classes continuously opens my mind (even if it is the same class repeatedly). For instance, I took a Tai Chi class out of long-term curiosity. This martial art form was such a wonderful spiritual experience, and I achieved all A’s the semester I took it. I enrolled again. I now practice two-Tai Chi forms and have studied Asian (mainly Japanese and Chinese) martial art forms, religious practices, and historical backgrounds. These are areas that I would have known nothing about had I maintained an education that solely focused on career training or just taken this class once. I am also more apt to engaging myself into conversations regarding these areas since my yearning for knowledge continues to grow.
Because some people choose to forgo college, it is unfortunate that the closest most students get to a balanced education does not occur until college. I agree with Linda Lee in her essay, “Who Needs College?” “America is obsessed with college. It has the second-highest number of graduates worldwide…” (49) even though the vast majority do not need to go. Bill Gates and Walter Cronkite are successful college dropouts. There have and always will be jobs that just need experience because the job is learned with time. My former director, Bea, sells Mary Kay products and does not have a college degree. She is happy making $120,000 a year plus bonuses since she gets to socialize with people and spend time with her family. She is not alone in her success without a college degree. Although she and others take roads that are far less traveled, they still are acquiring worldly wisdom and excelling. However, most of us need college to be truly successful, and we need an education that is balanced. In “The Poet and the Computer,” Norman Cousins quotes Aristotle: “A poet…has the advantage of expressing the universal; the specialist expresses only the particular” (187). Since it is just as important to convey thoughts generally as it is specifically, liberal arts education are just as important as career-based education, and without a balanced understanding, whether it is inherent or learned, achieving goals and dreams remains out of reach. A balanced education aids in the development of cognitive skills as well as the construction of a healthy value system. Teaching children how to read emotional variations within themselves will provide them with the intuition to read it in others. In this increasingly visually-based society, the incorporation of critical thinking-principles via the arts opens minds for critical analysis and problem-solving. In “In Between the Art and the Artist Lies the Shadow,” Diana Jean Schemo states, “…while good art requires skills…art at its best connects words, sounds, movement, or color to emotions crystal[l]ized within us,” (197) and without appropriate exposure to both liberal arts and career training, how can we expect to create a balanced society? Since students are not expected to learn English in two semesters, why should they be expected to fully understand another language in that time period or to acquire appropriate career training in that same period of time? Having a balanced education beginning at an early age and continuing throughout the educational process is critical in the development of a balanced life.
Ackley, Katherine Anne, ed. Perspectives on Contemporary Issues: Reading across the Disciplines. 3rd ed. Boston, MA: Heinle, 2003.
Cousins, Norman. “The Poet and the Computer.” Ackley 187-189.
Schemo, Diana Jean. “Between the Art and the Artist Lies the Shadow.” Ackley 196-198.
Williams, Harold M. “Don’t Ignore the Arts.” Ackley 190-195.