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Liberal Arts or STEM?

Liberal Arts or STEM, B.A. or B.S, getting an education or getting a job: the great educational dichotomy.

Once upon a time, as recently as 300 years ago in the United States, wealthy people went to college to become "learned." History, philosophy, languages, literature, were the province of gentlemen (and the occasional woman in drag, like Amy Lowell), who attended colleges and lectured at them, and sat in the library after formal dinners, smoking cigars and drinking brandy.

Tradesmen and skilled craftspeople may never have gone to school at all. The ability to read, write, and know enough math for your trade or your billing were often taught at home. Even when there was school, it was in the "off" season from your trade. Millers studied after the harvest was milled, farriers didn't start shoeing horses until the colts were big enough to put to work. Cobblers had time off during the summer, because most villagers went barefoot; and those were the times they learned both elementary education and advanced skills in their craft -- intricate designs, experiments with different tools.

Land Grant Institutions

About 250 years ago, the confluence of three social issues created a second kind of school.

  • The industrial revolution, from roughly 1790 through 1850 in the United states, raised first agriculture and later machinery to replace manual labor, to the status of sciences and engineering. The steam engine, sewing machine, elevator, locomotive, needed more than a trial-and-error method of development; and agriculture, especially chemical fertilization and machined planting and harvesting, raised the issue of schools to teach these subjects, instead of relegating them to the guild system that had kept artisans' skills a secret, instead of a matter of public education. 
  • The second point is one that has me stuck in terms of source citations. I got the book from the library nearly 20 years ago, and I'm just finding a quote or two: Statehood of North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington, and Montana
    • "All land planned for use for public education was to be sold at no less than ten dollars per acre, and all money was to go to a public school fund, and the money would be used to build an education system. No private companies or individuals were entitled to the land, as it was now property of the federal government." Requirement of public education for a territory to become a state.
    • "With the exception of the primitive schools of which w written, there was very little opportunity for education in California during the pre-statehood period. These constituted the only educational facilities of the people of the middle class, and the poorer classes were quite neglected. Private tutors were employed more wealthy people when they could be found..." Pre-Statehood Education in California:
    • So for several territories that wanted to become states before the Civil War, public education was a requirement.

These two factors were well-settled before the Civil War began. It was the dissatisfaction of the Union with seeing all its tax revenue going to fund a war that wasn't very popular that led to the final impetus in changing colleges.

Wiki tells the rest so clearly that I'm just going to quote:

"The concept of publicly funded agricultural and technical educational institutions first rose to national attention through the efforts of Jonathan Baldwin Turner in the late 1840s.[6] The first land-grant bill was introduced in Congress by Representative Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont in 1857.[6] The bill passed in 1859, but was vetoed by President James Buchanan.[6] Morrill resubmitted his bill in 1861, and President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into law in 1862.[7] The law gave every state and territory 30,000 acres per member of Congress to be used in establishing a "land grant" university. ..."

All of the lands, or money made from leasing, lumbering, or other use of the land, was to create a system of education for useful scientific skills.  The names of the schools usually included "A&T" (Agricultural and Technical); "A&M" (Agricultural and Mechanical), and usually, but not always included that word "State."  Some schools, like Yale and Rutgers, were already in existence as liberal arts schools; but they were designated by the state legislature to receive the land grant money.

These handful of schools were hybrids; they were both liberal arts and technical colleges. Cornell was the first school deliberately founded to be a hybrid school. But for the schools already a century old before the land grants were created, how were they to distinguish?

  • The liberal arts degrees that already existed were designated as "B.A." (Bachelor of Arts) degrees.
  • The science-heavy courses funded by the land-grant money became designated as "B.S." (Bachelor of Science) degrees.
  • State Teachers Colleges did not originate from either of these precursors. The need for schools to train teachers preceded the land-grant schools; these were called "Normal Schools."

There are specialty schools that don't fit into any of these categories. Schools of fine arts and performing arts, schools of religious instruction and "trade schools" of computer technology, auto repair, electronics, still exist as one or two year programs. Nursing degrees can be offered as four-year B.S. programs or as two-year technical school or community college programs. But all of those are on the "technical" side of the great B.A.-- B.S. divide:

Liberal Arts and B.A. programs exist for the sake of teaching classical knowledge -- history, literature, philosophy, languages...

Technical and B.S. programs exist to provide job training -- science, computers, engineering, and agriculture, as well as art, music, and health sciences.

  • I don't want to assert anything about education with 100% certainty, but virtually all STEM programs are B.S. programs.
  • Virtually all STEM programs within a University system require students to take some history, literature, and arts courses, just as virtually all B.A. courses require some math and science among their background courses.
  • Even the Colorado School of Mines requires humanities and English courses, although it offers no majors in liberal arts subjects.

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