Once, when I told a guy on a plane that I taught philosophy at a community college, he responded, “So you teach Plato to plumbers?” Yes, indeed. But I also teach Plato to nurses’ aides, soldiers, ex-cons, preschool music teachers, janitors, Sudanese refugees, prospective wind-turbine technicians, and any number of other students who feel like they need a diploma as an entry ticket to our economic carnival. As a result of my work, I’m in a unique position to reflect on the current discussion about the value of the humanities, one that seems to me to have lost its way.
Traditionally, a liberal arts education, in the arts, literature, science, and philosophy, went only to the upper classes, because they (and only they) needed the knowledge and judgment to lead. The lower classes only needed to be good, obedient employees.
Sure, education should teach job skills. But it should also enrich lives. It can and should do both.
Terrific essay. Read every word: Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers: Liberal arts and the humanities aren’t just for the elite.