Reading Zakaria’s “In Defense of a Liberal Education”

Reading Zakaria's In Defense of a Liberal Education

I recently came across Fareed Zakaria’s book In Defense of a Liberal Education and picked it up. Literature after all is close to my heart. And my daughter is beginning to develop an interest in writing. I myself have a degree in literature and a terminal degree in Creative Writing. So this book seemed like something I should read.

The Good

There were a few things I agreed with Zakaria on.

I agree, for instance, that getting along with other people comes more naturally to those with a common base of culture and knowledge to draw from. It is just as true that reading good literature makes you a better thinker, speaker and writer. These are in themselves good arguments for being educated in the classics.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t put forth a very convincing case for college.

The Bad

While there is much I agree on with his basic idea, Zakaria consistently pulls anecdotal evidence to make his case. He dismisses rote learning as “not working” because of his own bad experiences. Never mind the fact that Greek education which he glorifies depended heavily on memorization.

He also conveniently forgets the contributions of Christianity in bringing education to America and instead claims that it was knowledge after all that God did not want Adam and Eve to have.

That’s intellectually lazy, at best. At worst, it was just a parroting of bad stereotypes that agreed with his point of view.

Final Takeaway

Zakaria’s claim that colleges in the 50s and 60s were “more than just glorified trade schools,” that people went to college to supposedly get a liberal education just doesn’t stand close scrutiny. If you want to truly understand why higher education took off in the 1950s read Zak Slayback’s The End of School. 

Also take a look at the graduation rates of the time Zakaria considers the golden age of liberal education.

The biggest argument I had with the book is that it never justifies spending four years secluding yourself in a college studying the liberal arts while racking up mountains of student loans in an effort to… what? Become a better writer? A better communicator? Wouldn’t this be possible with self study? That’s when he cleverly brings in MOOCs, (Massive Online Open Courses) which I appreciate.

While you can make the case that the value of a degree can go beyond just getting a job, delaying getting a job to attend college for a liberal arts degree while racking mountains of student loans is just going to create an ivory tower academic.

So, a mixed read. But an interesting one, especially as a homeschooler.

You can check out In Defense of a Liberal Education here.

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Author: Purva Brown

Writer / blogger at - unapologetically blending two seeming opposites.

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