Let’s face it. Most of us aren’t all that bright. Sixteen per cent of us have an IQ below 85 – that’s about the level of intelligence you need to need to drink through a straw. And even a high IQ is no a guarantee of success. According to a study cited by Professor Joan Freedman in The Gifted Child, only six from a sample of 210 ultra bright children turned out to be successful adults.
So, even those blessed with an abundance of grey matter can stuff things up royally on contact with real world things such as parking meters or women who cry a lot. In a busy office with a bunch of invoices to process, and difficult people to manage, a grasp of Homer and a Grade 8 Distinction in the Harp are about as useful as a giraffe to a Copenhagen zoo.
What we need, then, is an education system — and particularly a higher education system — that first and foremost equips the majority of the workforce with useful skills. The Liberal Arts, by which we mean non-vocational, non-technical, non-professional university degrees, just don’t do that. Like sex or chocolate, time spent pondering life with a whimsical expression is an indulgence. Don’t get me wrong — I am a liberal arts fan. My enduring love for Boris Johnson is built on my belief he can speak Latin and Greek fluently. And even as an atheist, I follow Papal tweets in Latin. I haven’t a clue what he is banging on about, but it lifts my spirits.
Liberal arts are perfect if you are Boris and have the personality to disseminate the wisdom you have garnered with the verbosity of a man firing on semi-automatic. If you have a fondness for your own reflection and sound of your own voice, they are also valuable. The aptly named Mr. Self, who I’ll be debating on this subject next month, is testament to this.
But if you are Dwayne from inner city Hull, growing up in a tough council estate with limited life chances – the liberal arts are about as useful as a pink jumper. It is the technical colleges that fulfill an essential function. They can transform young people into employees fit for business. Students can study part time, work within the college serving customers and spend a considerable part of their student career working with employers keen to hire them in the future.
For graduates, creating a budget for Q1 or Q2 is not a simple task unless you have a basic grasp of business strategy and finance. Compiling a spreadsheet to track product volumes is easier if you know how to make spreadsheets. It’s not sophisticated, or sexy, but it is important. Theorising, philosophising and scientific endeavour are noble pursuits — but they can be pursued later, after you have learned how to get on in life. In a world driven by business, in which individuals must make money, whether we like it or not, A Liberal Arts Degree is for the vast majority of us, a waste of time and money. And I dare you to say otherwise, Mr Self.
The next Spectator debate: ‘A liberal arts education is a waste of time and money.’ Katie Hopkins, Will Self, Anthony Seldon and Julia Hobsbawm will go head-to-head on 4 March. Click here to book tickets.
More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us.