“One difficulty is that the defenders of liberal education – essentially education aiming at producing enlightenment rather than the ability to fix computers, get clients off drink-driving charges or mend broken limbs – are never sure what terrain to fight the philistines on. Defending an education based on Matthew Arnold’s “the best that has been thought and said in the world” against those who want more plumbers, those who believe against all the evidence that a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects will create a second Industrial Revolution, and those who just don’t see the point of educating the lower orders in the first place is no easier now than when he wrote Culture and Anarchy almost 150 years ago.
There are three different arguments that most people defending the arts and humanities will run; they are not at odds with each other, but none is completely plausible, even when not vulnerable to the snort of disbelief that would greet anyone appealing to Newman’s claim that the object of a university is to produce “gentlemen”. Nor does it help the arts and humanities that the best arguments favour what the Americans call “the liberal arts and sciences” rather than the arts and humanities in particular.”
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