David Treadwell

David Treadwell

At a recent campaign stop in New Hampshire, Senator Marco Rubio stated that, “Liberal arts colleges are indoctrination camps protected by the political left because all their friends work there.”

Oh, Marco, where do I begin? First, let’s concede that your college-bashing remarks appeal to the anti-intellectual/ anti-education wing of the Republican party. Indeed, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have risen to the top of the polls precisely because of their ability to “speak” to such voters. Maybe you’re just trying to out-Trump Trump or out-Cruz Cruz.

But let’s be kind. Let’s go deeper. Do liberal arts colleges really matter? More specifically, does exposure to courses in the liberal arts matter?

Well, you could ask the heads of Starbucks or Avon or Walt Disney or Whole Foods or YouTube or HBO or American Express or Hewlett Packard or Netflix. That’s right, they share in common a degree in the liberal arts.

Meryl Streep knows the values of a liberal arts education as she graduated from Vassar. Oh, and Paul Newman graduated from Kenyon. Ever watch a television special created by Ken Burns (Hampshire College)? Did you know that Star Wars director George Lucas took courses in literature and anthropology at Modesto Junior College in California? But they’re all just part of “the liberal Hollywood elite,” right? They don’t count, right? By that reckoning, Julian Fellowes, the creator of “Downton Abbey” who received a liberal arts education in schools and universities in England, probably doesn’t count either.

Okay, let’s move on. Are you looking for someone more mainstream, more all- American, more manly, someone in sports, say, or the military? Ever heard of Bill Belichick, the supremely successful coach of the Patriots? He graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Oh, and Union General Joshua Chamberlain managed a few major military triumphs despite his Bowdoin education.

How about someone who’s directly involved in global affairs, people like former Secretaries of State Madeline Albright and Hillary Clinton, both of whom hold Wellesley degrees? Or Senator George Mitchell and Senator Bill Cohen, both Bowdoin graduates? Incidentally, Stanley Druckenmiller, a world-renowned hedge fund manager and philanthropist, majored in English and Economics at Bowdoin.

I know what you’re thinking, Marco, most of those people are squishy liberals. Well, do you know where the GOP darling Ronald Reagan went to college? Try Eureka College, a liberal arts college in Illinois. Oops, sometimes cute sound bites come back to bite you in the backside!

If you’re looking for an educational institution that indoctrinates, you might check out Liberty University in Virginia, which claims to give students a “Christian foundation.” Some people might argue that Liberty majors in indoctrination, insisting upon a one-religion, one-political-party-fitsall approach. President Jerry Falwell, Jr., makes this stance clear when he urges students and faculty to carry guns on campus in case of a Muslim invasion.

But seriously, Marco, let’s examine the benefits of a liberal arts education. Ideally, a liberal arts education helps students learn how to think critically and communicate clearly, valuable skills for any career — or life. How can political leaders effectively address world issues without understanding historical trends or religious differences or cultural nuances? Shouldn’t business executives have a broad worldview in order to succeed in the global economy? Aren’t we all lifted, at some point in our lives, by music or art or literature, which are cornerstones of the humanities? Finally, a good liberal arts education should foster a lifelong love of learning, an essential trait for surviving and thriving in today’s face-paced world.

Marco, I could share the Offer of the College written by William DeWitt Hyde, President of Bowdoin College (1885-1917), which includes such phrases as, “To be at home in all lands and all ages, to count Nature a familiar acquaintance, and Art an intimate friend..,” but I daresay such thoughts would fly over your head. A quotation from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:6) comes to mind: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs, nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”


David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary or ideas for future “Just a Little Old” columns at [email protected]

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