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Maria Covey Cole: The importance of the liberal arts education

Published: Wednesday, March 23 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

A recent story on the front page caught my eye and made me ask the question, "Are humanities a road to nowhere?" ("Degrees to nowhere?" March 14).

My eight siblings and I were raised with the philosophy that one doesn't go to college to get a job but to learn how to learn. All nine of us have graduated from Brigham Young University with liberal arts degrees: history, English, American studies, international relations and political science. Six of the nine have pursued graduate studies: three have MBAs from Harvard, one from UCLA; another has a master's degree in Education; another a master's degree in English. We are all so grateful for our liberal arts education as it has given us the ability to write, think and communicate and provided a cultural literacy that we never would have received outside the College of Humanities.

Not only does a liberal arts education broaden a person's knowledge of history, culture, philosophy and literature, but it also deepens one's understanding of the human condition. My college English professor offered this insight: "Man left alone in his own experience suffers eternally from an insufficiency of data." Another professor taught: "The study of the humanities makes us more humane."

I found it ironic that in the Life section of your paper, on the same day, there was an article on the importance of literacy that was relevant to my life. The author states: "A lot of problems (in the home) go away when the mother in the home is educated: Kids grades go up, their chances for at-risk behavior drops, their health improves and more. ...This means that yes, educating a woman is critical, even if she's 'just' going to be a stay-at-home mom" ("21st Century Literacy," Annette Lyon).

As a full-time mother of five, I use my English degree every day. We discuss books, ideas and philosophies as a family. I edit all of my children's papers. I write extensively: letters, proposals for school grants, teacher submissions for the Huntsman Award for Education, the content of church programs, etc. So the assertion by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, that certain courses of study are "degrees to nowhere" is extremely shortsighted and ignorant. The purpose of education is not only to "get a job," but also to enrich one's life.

I now have two children at Brigham Young University. My son is applying for the accounting program, and my daughter is a humanities major. While my son is choosing to pursue the more "practical" degree, he is aware of the importance of the liberal arts and is taking a humanities class every semester to round out his education. Are the humanities a road to nowhere? Hardly.

Maria Covey Cole is author of "Contentment: Inspiring Insights for LDS Mothers." She holds a bachelor's degree in English from BYU and a master's degree in educational studies from the University of Utah.

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