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Ordained in 2011, Father Friel served for five years as Parochial Vicar at St. Anselm Parish in Northeast Philly. He is currently studying toward a doctorate in liturgical theology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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“Come now,” they said, “Thou who wouldst destroy the temple and build it up in three days, rescue Thyself; come down from that cross, if Thou art the Son of God.”
— Gospel of St. Matthew 27:42

Does a Liberal Arts Education Have Any Value?
published 11 May 2014 by Fr. David Friel

O MANY VOICES in the world today would have us believe that the goal of life is to receive specialized training, find a job that pays well, live comfortably, and enjoy retirement. There are many issues with that approach, but let’s just start with the first. When did the Western obsession with specialization take control?

In America, much of higher education has been reduced to mere career training. Students enroll in programs that have an absurdly narrow focus, and they are required less and less to broaden their studies. This is a far cry from the ideal of true “education,” which involves the process of being drawn out of oneself to wrestle with ideas and confront challenges.

The only fields of study that hold merit, we are increasingly being told, are those in applied sciences, particularly STEM-related studies. Studying anything that won’t directly translate to employment is seen as futile, purposeless, or even poor judgment. What about languages? What about music? What about philosophy & theology? What ever happened to the value of a liberal arts education?

I recently read a thoughtful article about liberal arts education in a newspaper opinion piece. The author (Leslie Anne Miller, a trustee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art) writes this:

It is time to recognize the importance of a well-rounded education and not lose sight of our rich cultural heritage, which has added such a critical dimension to life in this country. Without the visual arts, music, theater, architecture, and the like, future generations will have no sense of culture. Liberal arts degrees teach students how to communicate, think, solve problems, and be team players. Understanding the “why” is imperative; we know the “how” and “what.”

Had I not entered the seminary after high school, I likely would have gone to college to study journalism, literature, or something similar. My course of studies would have been fairly narrow and very much directed to helping me succeed in a particular professional field. One of my life’s blessings for which I am most grateful, though, is that I entered the college seminary and received a first-rate liberal arts education. That was not something I ever would have chosen on my own, but it opened my mind and heart in many unexpected and thrilling ways.

There is a place for vocational training, to be sure. But, is there not also a place for the liberal arts? We who are interested in the arts & culture & liturgy ought to encourage young people to take up the liberal arts. Life, after all, is about more than technical training and entry-level salaries.