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What Constitutes a Well-Rounded Education and Stupid LibArts Majors

  1. Apr 8, 2009 #1
    So the current (and classical) opinion on education is that a well-rounded education is best for students. The definitions of well-rounded are a bit muddly and mean different things to different people, so I was curious; what subjects should a 'well-educated' person know or at least be competent in (roughly ranked by importance, let's assume)?
    Ex: -Literature
    -Foreign Languages
    -Underwater Basket Weaving

    Second bit of this post may be a little provocative, but I have to say it, because this has happened about five times in the past week alone.

    The assumption is that if I went into a STEM major (or two, in fact) is the self-satisfying notion that I must be bad at 'being creative' and I must be a robot who can''t hack together a decent English paper or something stupid like that. This seems to me like a 'feel better about myself' sort of idea; 'They're a math major and I'm a philosophy major. I can't tell an integer from my own butthole but at least they can't philosophize like I do!'

    Has anyone ever dealt with this before? Maybe it's because I'm in a college where the LibArts always feel like they get the short end of the stick but this makes me want to smack them. My entire first year of tuition was paid for by grants and scholarships- scholarships that I received from writing creative essays. I didn't go into a STEM major because it was what I was best at, it's because it was the thing that I was most interested in!

    Obviously, this isn't all LibArts majors or even most of them (who are a fun bunch by-and-large) but the very vocal and annoying part of them.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 8, 2009 #2
    Don't you have homework to do or something?
  4. Apr 8, 2009 #3


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    Until you start noticing physics and chemistry majors aceing 'liberal arts' classes without even trying and then you start wondering....

    It's just people like doing different things. Sure some people in the liberal arts cant hack it in science and some people in the sciences can't make a creative paper if their life depended on it... but its just silly when people keep themselves out of majors based on such preconceived notions :).
  5. Apr 9, 2009 #4
    I think that well rounded should include (no ranking):
    a writing class
    a year of a modern foreign language
    a year of economics
    a year of mathematics
    a history course (especially 20th century history)
    an ethics philosophy course

    as for the misconceptions of different talents, it takes just as much creativity to get a succinct proof in mathematics as to analyze the effects of nuclear proliferation to rogue states. yes, some people in stem majors can't write and some in humanities can't think superlogically, but that is not really the rule. for example, in my abstract mathematics class, most people are stem majors, but we also have 3 economists (woot!), and an english lit major.

    but, I have taken many advanced math, statistics, history, political science, and economics classes. I must say, math and stats classes have a lot more independent anaylsis and application. It isn't just learning what was said in class, but applying the thms and such to novel problems. History and political science is fun, but it takes very little thought to sit and write a 10 page paper, in which you can really say almost anything if you can find support. A grade of B seems like a failure in a humanities class, but the same grade in a stem class feels like dancing angels on a pin.

    Maybe that is just me.
  6. Apr 9, 2009 #5


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    I'm sure I've said this before, but shouldn't these sorts of classes be taught in high school? If they are, then why do you need to repeat them in university? If not, then what do you learn in high school?

    In my opinion, university is for specialising and obtaining a degree in one subject. The time before that is taken up with the broad, background education in everything.

    I think it is. I wouldn't argue that humanities and arts subjects are easy because you can just write down whatever comes into your head. Perhaps you've never studied such a subject...
  7. Apr 9, 2009 #6


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    I agree completely. The "well-rounded" courses students typically have to take where I go teach a lot of things you can use in daily life... except that they're courses that people are suppose to have taken in high school. I think it's the fact that high schools and universities are dumbing down their educations typically that is creating such a problem. At my university, if you did well in high school and learned what you were suppose to learn, the general education courses are meaningless essentially because you already know them. It really is a disappointment because whenever I chose to venture out into another department to take a fun course to learn something not science related, I was disappointed at how elementary the course was (to the point I slept through almost every class and set test score highs). I think high schools need to stop being daycares and allow universities to stop wasting students times by forcing useless courses down everyone's throats simply because high schools failed at their job.
  8. Apr 9, 2009 #7
    Before studying anything else, everybody should be forced to have a middle-college level in mathematics. That would deeply deeply change the world.
  9. Apr 9, 2009 #8
    I'd just tell them about the amount of money you've already made through your writing... Just say "Well, I've already done the writing thing... one year I received $XXXXX for my work.... then I found out that as an engineer, I could make three times that, and if I want, I can continue to write in my free time!" (You don't have to let them know your royalties were actually scholarship monies.)

    this was me... I was always top in all my liberal arts classes in college, so I was never ragged on.
  10. Apr 9, 2009 #9


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    This is my view as well. Of course, language courses should be more advanced, and I don't understand why one couldn't do advanced language course in mathematics, physics or engineering/applied science, although one could if one traveled abroad (from the US).
  11. Apr 9, 2009 #10

    Ben Niehoff

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    On the other hand, I've also seen plenty of engineers and science types who can't write anything worth a damn. I know because I've been on group projects with them that involved a report at the end, and their parts were scarcely grammatical, let alone readable and logically organized.

    So I do think that some of these things should be required. However, to force people to repeat things they did in highschool is rather silly. Luckily, most liberal arts courses don't actually have prerequisites, in a meaningful sense (except for foreign languages), so you should be able to jump into whatever course sounds interesting.

    I think everyone should have experience in a few of these:

    Creative writing
    Foreign language

    and also experience in a few of these:


    Most people should be exposed to this stuff in highschool, but I think it makes sense to require it at a higher level in university. I also think no-one should be allowed to graduate who cannot both:

    1. Write an essay in a concise, organized way, and

    2. Make a logical argument for some concrete position.
  12. Apr 9, 2009 #11
    People should learn things they are interested in and what they consider to be important.

    If an engineer don't consider communicating thoughts as important and chooses not to learn them, he wouldn't get much success in his career. He can work on his own if he thinks that he should. Simple as that. No need to tell people what's good for them.
  13. Apr 9, 2009 #12
    I disagree that University should be a time only for specialization.

    If you look at mot curricula, they are comprised of around 120 hours. Personally, I feel that a 90-30 split between depth and breadth is reasonable. How many places require 30 hours of gen. ed. courses anyway? For a science major, the list could include:

    6 hrs of composition
    6 hrs of hrs of literature
    3 hrs of philosophy
    3 hrs of fine arts
    6 hrs of social science
    6 hrs of history

    Of course, the "gen. ed." requirement to have:

    6 hrs of mathematics
    6 hrs of physical science
    3 hrs of computer

    Would be related to the major anyway, and therefore constitute depth, not breadth.

    Also, many people *do* get their breadth out of the way in high school; look into the advanced placement (AP) system.
  14. Apr 9, 2009 #13
    I understand that some people prefer certain types of learning over others. But I find it difficult to believe that a person who displays intelligence in one area is incapable of showing it in another. Once you find what you like, you will do it over and over again until you are good at it, to the exclusion of other activities. This will leave you stronger in one area than another. However, it may be that later in life you have reason to broaden your activities into new areas and find that you are just as able to succeed in them as in your original pursuit. In time small successes may lead you to actually like something you previously thought you didn't like and will spend more and more time at it and achieve greater and greater success. For instance, we see so many people writing on the net, people who hated to write essays in creative writing class. I am one such. If they keep doing it, a certain percentage of these people are bound to get good at it, find satisfaction in doing it, and perhaps even abandon old pursuits in favor of it.

    A liberal arts education is supposed to expose the student to a range of intellectual areas. It should happen at a time when the student doesn't yet know what area they will go into. It should be a mix of arts and sciences.
  15. Apr 9, 2009 #14


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    No one included a speaking class?

    I always hated the method my high school used: just assign enough oral presentations and the student will a) eventually become good at public speaking, or b) eventually learn they don't like to speak in front of the class. About the only thing worse than giving oral presentations was listening to them when the speaker forgot to number their index cards.

  16. Apr 9, 2009 #15
    This must be the best tip I ever heard on how to encourage people to speak to crowds. Ty, BobG. So how have you solved the staring issue?
  17. Apr 9, 2009 #16


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    Staring issue? :confused:

    I guess I've never been looking at their eyes.

    If it's a problem, wear a tie and wipe the drool from the corner of your mouth once in a while. Then they won't stare so much.
  18. Apr 9, 2009 #17
    I just thought that if there were some attractive women in the crowd, ones focus might not be in their eyes. But I think a tie might not be enough as there could be a lake forming at ones feet.
  19. Apr 9, 2009 #18


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    This is an old and tired idea, at one time referred to as a "literacy list." It's garbage, even in concept. There is no single, indisputable way to define "well-roundedness," just as there is no single, indisputable way to define "intelligence."

    - Warren
  20. Apr 9, 2009 #19

    Ivan Seeking

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    In this country, we would be way ahead if everyone understood introductory algebra.

    Obama wants to make a college degree or tech certification the new minimum standard; that is, he wants it to be an automatic expectation and provide a means for everyone to attend, regardless of their financial means. Right now you can drop out of high school at age sixteen if you can read the name on a cereal box and get it mostly correct.

    I remember my first semester Calculus Professor announcing at the end of the class that we now know more math than 95% of the people in the country.
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2009
  21. Apr 9, 2009 #20

    Ben Niehoff

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    I agree.

    Also, BobG mentioned speaking, to which I also agree.

    Oddly, I've never had an issue with oral presentation assignments, even though I can be nervous talking to people personally. I would usually not write out what I wanted to say, but merely write an outline, and then give the entire presentation off the cuff, without practice. I don't know if my presentations were actually any good, but somehow I wasn't nervous giving them.
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