In case you had not heard, the GAP clothing store got into a bit of trouble over at T-shirt it was selling bearing the phrase "Manifest Destiny."
I am not going to use this space to debate whether or not such a T-shirt is or is not appropriate, although I have my opinions. Some might say that "Manifest Destiny" represents American individualism, the ambition to move West and settle the continent, and the spirit that made the United States the most powerful nation in the world. Others will say that it represents a movement that resulted in the destruction of Native Americans.
Amy Lewis, a business management professor at Drury University, sees the GAP "Manifest Destiny" controversy as a lesson in why business students need to take courses in history and the liberal arts. Here is a taste of her piece at today's Inside Higher Ed:
Although I teach in a business school, my university has a long history
and commitment to the liberal arts. We recently had candidates for
president of our university on campus, and a common question the
candidates were asked was how to articulate the value of the liberal
arts. This is a crucial question, as there are clear attacks on the
liberal arts through a devaluation of their contribution to society,
cuts in research funding, and state governments questioning the
appropriateness of distributing scarce budget resources to the liberal
I argue to you, as I did to my students, that the Gap T-shirt is an
excellent example of why the liberal arts matter. An American history
class might have given a better understanding of the massacres committed
under the name of Manifest Destiny. A sociology class might have given
an understanding of the implications of the institutionalized oppression
of Native Americans in the aftermath of these programs. A philosophy
class might have led those involved to pause and consider the ethical
implications of profiting from genocide. A strong liberal arts education
might have prevented the sale of this offensive T-shirt, and the
backlash a company faced.
A well-educated population is crucial for a vibrant economy, and in
these times of constrained resources, a liberal arts education might be
seen as an unaffordable luxury. I see parents encouraging their children
to avoid majors in the liberal arts in favor of "something employable."
I see students questioning the value of the liberal arts core
curriculum we require. Some resent being "forced" to study a foreign
language. Others question how they can justify the expense of a study
abroad experience. Too many feel their time is being “wasted” by taking
classes outside of their major. As business faculty, clearly I see
great value in my students pursuing an undergraduate business major or
an M.B.A., but that does not mean higher education should simply be
conceptualized as job training.
Even if we accept an argument that we must prepare all of our students
for their future working lives, the broad background provided by a
liberal arts education can help our students see the connections from
the past, to understand that there are multiple viewpoints or cultural
lenses through which to view the world. To critically think -- to stop
and realize that "Manifest Destiny" is not just a catchy phrase, but
rather a complex issue from our past, loaded with pain and outrage.