Bob Thomas: Too much focus is placed on the liberal arts today

“We are shut up in schools and college recitation rooms for 10 or 15 years, and come out at last with a bellyful of words and don’t know a thing.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

In my column of Sept. 11, I criticized our public education system for the umpteenth time over its almost total lack of concern for students who are not going to college. Why are liberal arts considered so bloody important when they seldom lead to anything in the way of meaningful employment? And yet, we squander most of or education money on kids who will go to college and take “fun” courses.

Teaching is about the only avenue for gainful employment with liberal arts degrees. If you are an aspiring instrumental musician, a sculptor, painter or writer, you are never going to be as good studying in college as you would privately from a successful professional. But you can learn the fundamentals well enough to teach school and become certified to do so.

So once again, why does our so-called system of education place so much emphasis on going to college? Why have we parents stood aside and watched the colleges and universities build themselves into huge businesses? That’s all they are today. College and university teachers and administrators’ salaries have skyrocketed over the past 20 years — undeservedly.

When I was a Nevada legislator 25 years ago, UNR President Joe Crowley was making less than $100,000 a year with benefits. Today, the UNR president makes in excess of $400,000. These modern-day academics are hellbent on demanding and surpassing private-sector salaries when they produce nothing of tangible value, take no risks and have the softest of jobs, with tenure.

Now, in response to my Sept. 11, column, “Society aided when all are well-trained,” my son, Erik, who is a freelance software architect and owner of E.J. Thomas and Associates, Boulder, Colo., read that column and wrote me the following:

“Hey Dad: Thank goodness for India or we in software firms would be unable to find any qualified developers. Here is my entire development team on my current contract with Intuit, Inc: Prashant Ulavapalli, Rupesh Choure, Boby Alex, Mukesh Thotengera, Ravi Jammi, Reuben John, Mani Subramani, Rohan Rasne and Sagar Wagh.

“Everyone on this team was born in India. I feel honored to even qualify to be on this team, a team that is full of brilliant, innovating engineers and designers. American software engineers are a dying breed, usually going in for management, marketing etc., if they go into the private sector at all.

“What a shame our public education system has so embraced liberal arts that kids graduating from public high school are entirely unprepared and uninterested in enrolling in any technical degree program in college or out (with technical trade schools like DeVry).

“Just a slightly different angle on your arguments, Dad, as even the tech professions are affected by our broken public school system and lack of parental involvement in guiding their kid’s development, leaving them to flounder in life with no real future. Cheers, Erik.”

There is no question about it, if we had Manual Arts High Schools like we had in the 1930s and ’40s in California, we could be teaching beginning courses in software, programming, tool and die making, machine shop, NC machine programming, nursing, food preparation, computer-aided design (CAD), electrical contracting, plumbing contracting, pipe-fitting, carpentry, secretarial skills, stenographic work, bookkeeping, banking, truck driving, earth-moving equipment operation, landscaping, gardening, automotive and aircraft mechanics, heavy-equipment maintenance and more. And, of course, history, English and basic math must be required.

Except for schoolteaching, taking liberal arts courses in college will never begin to employ the numbers of skilled people who could be employed right out of high school if each were trained in one or two of the above disciplines.

Bob Thomas is a retired high-tech industrialist who served on the Carson City School Board, the Nevada Welfare Board and the Carson City Airport Authority and as a three-term state Assemblyman. His website is


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