Real life: liberal arts education


Perhaps the most tiresome and frequently-asked question of my high school career was as follows: "When will we use this in real life?"

What, I wondered, was so decidedly unrealistic about educational life? This begs another question: what exactly is real life?

Though I have always felt like something of an old soul in that I tend to rush the present and view it only as the precursor to a brighter future.

The life of a high-school student, with all of its social anxiety, academic striving and glorified Degrassi-esque melodrama, seemed real enough. Surely that is no way to live — considering every moment a roadblock before the next, spinning one's wheels, waiting to explode on the stage of real life. This question speaks of a shift toward vocational education, of an erosion of the liberal arts values that DePauw so champions, of death knells for cultural inheritance and deep thought.

Why must knowledge be of use in real life? When did it become a commodity? The perception of education as an intellectual pursuit for the advancement of humankind and comprehension of the human condition is choking in its death throes. Instead, education has turned into a crash-course preparation for "real life."

There was once a time when education was more than the transmission of information, but rather a forum for the exploration of life's mystery. Knowledge should not exist solely as a finite entity or as currency in a global economy. Its value is of far greater meaning than the securing of a career.

Robert Maynard Hutchins once said, "A liberal education frees a man from the prison-house of his class, race, time, background, family, and even his nation."

I can only hope that my first year at DePauw will free me from the one-size-fits-all educational mentality of public schooling, that it will elevate me and that it will introduce me to people and places and ideas the likes of which I can only dream.

I am often asked why I chose a small liberal arts school as opposed to a larger private school or a sprawling public university. I chose DePauw because the liberal arts bring students in contact with the best the world can offer — literature, languages, philosophy, history, mathematics, science.

A solid grounding in the liberal arts enriches life, extends consciousness of the world and enhances comprehension of cultural inheritance by connecting students with great minds of the past.

The liberal arts are every bit as fundamental in understanding why humankind does what it does as a vocational education is in understanding why humankind works the way it works.

Perhaps most significantly, I chose DePauw because I want to be more than an anonymous face swimming in the murky sea of a crowded lecture hall, more than a term paper in an astronomical stack of term papers and more than a faceless walker swept away on her journey to class by the throng on the congested quad.

I want to be somewhere that values knowledge as the progressive endeavor of a lifetime rather than envisioning it as a means to an end. I want to be in a place where an education amounts to more than a job offer.

I want to be a part of something rather than standing with thousands of others on the outside looking in. If that isn't real life, then I don't know what is.

-Westenfeld, a freshman, is a Media Fellow from Fort Wayne, Ind., intending to major in English literature and creative writing.