My former adviser at Butler sent me an opinion piece by Ryan Lovelace in The College Fix in which he expresses some troubling opinions on the nature of Butler’s liberal arts curriculum and the liberal arts in general.
As a former photography editor of The Collegian, my first reaction was disappointment that a journalist from this publication would express such stubborn and defeatist perspectives.
Upon further consideration I have come to the conclusion that I should be unsurprised by such a commentary, but nevertheless that I should attempt to counter Lovelace’s unfortunate opinion.
I am unsurprised for two reasons. The first is that an embodied and well-instructed liberal arts education should be, by definition, challenging.
History and politics are inherently uncomfortable things.
We see humanity’s worst potential as well as the pinnacles that we could never live up to.
But they also require an inclusive perspective, a threatening concept which requires thinking beyond ourselves.
Much like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, liberal artists learn, act and communicate with an unpredictable and fluid world.
Unfortunately, Lovelace—having been asked to “Eat me—” has shrunk and is floundering in a sea of his own tears.
This is unsurprising because, as much as many may think that the liberal arts are blow-off disciplines full of easily dismissible post-modern hokum, they are actually complex venues of knowledge-making and un-making which are not for those who would have the white rabbit handed to them for a price.
I am unsurprised by Lovelace’s mention of Butler’s pricey tuition.
Teacher’s strikes, discussions of student debt and a terrible job market increasingly put talk of money and education in the same sentence.
University students are right to be frustrated at the price of college education.
However, this frustration has resulted in the mistaken idea that an education should somehow pay off.
That is, that college should train us for careers and salaries.
The liberal arts seem to confound this at every turn, instead affording us vague skills like critical thought, expression and multivocality.
However, Jay Howard points out that the value of an education should instead be measured in its productiveness.
And productiveness is, perhaps, best measured in conflict and change.
I would point out that it is precisely this discomfort and conflict that has so upset Lovelace.
The real danger in Lovelace’s commentary is that he has neglected to think beyond his own egoistic bubble.
In publicly deciding to drop a class because he was afraid of how it would make him think, his words have been taken up by racist and misogynist commentators on the Internet.
I do not hold Mr. Lovelace responsible for anonymous comments on the internet.
I only suggest that an inclusive perspective might, without devaluing its own point, retreat from establishing polarized boundaries of black and white, homo and heterosexual.
Instead, Lovelace has put up impenetrable walls of impossible inclusivity, effectively silencing conversation.
I now teach in an alternative high school serving primarily white, high-income students.
I work with students one-on-one teaching history, English, civics and writing.
My greatest challenge is to address occasional racist, uninformed, indoctrinated or aped prejudices of students.
Without suggesting the students should think as I do (which Lovelace should appreciate) and thereby shutting down participation, I must communicate with my students, to focus on the subject matter and to open up new and safe avenues of thought.
To do this I must be patient, thoughtful and inclusive.
It is precisely the liberal arts education which Lovelace has proudly discarded that allows me to listen, reflect and connect with my students without threat.
More than correcting their opinions or expressing mine, inclusiveness allows me to use these moments to contribute to quality education for students who have found failure or boredom in classrooms.
Thinking and writing in a way which prioritizes experiences of others is critical to achieving a productive classroom.
What Mr. Lovelace has overlooked are the important tools his education might be giving him to make a difference in a contrary world.
I am thankful to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler for offering me development and tools for making a difference in my own students’ education.
I should like Lovelace to reconsider his decisions and challenge himself in order to achieve the same as a journalist.
Class of 2009 alumnus