This blog is in response to a December 13, 2018 article in the Atlantic entitled The Liberal Arts May Not Survive the 21st Century. I took issue with the author’s defeatist approach and thought that colleges and universities needed a defender and a reminder of what is possible and necessary to keep the Liberal Arts relevant.
A public good. That is what many people believe a public education is. It is for the public, and therefore a good that must be funded through public coffers. We often diverge on the extent and type of funding for public education. Like our public K-12 schools, state colleges and universities are, or should be, considered public good by many. Recently these educational institutions are fighting what I see as a two-front war: economic constraints from diminished state funding; and the wave of anti-intellectualism that is gripping the national discourse. All else comes second to these two major concerns. What they each speak to is value. Is education valuable enough to a society to fully fund it, and is it valuable enough to the individual to build a career from it?
What many miss about the importance of a liberal arts education is that it helps you identify and connect the proverbial dots in new and unique ways. It creates the conditions for divergent thinking that is required in a society, because of its dependency on technology, to implement innovation to continue to grow. Colleges and universities should do a better job at helping students see the transferrable skills that each major offers to whatever life path they choose.
These skills are not often taught or reinforced in the K-12. It is the responsibility of colleges and university courses, not just the campus career center, to help students connect the dots that will make up the map of their lives – at least in the immediate future. Courses should have an interdisciplinary component that requires students to weave together the coursework with that from another course. This could also include weaving together work experience to help take their learning outside of the classroom. All of these would be practical ways that students could begin making sense of their education and have it reflect their unique perspective on the experience. This uniqueness is what employers want to read in the cover letter and see during the interview.
A “tech-hungry” economy requires innovators. People who see the world in new and unique ways. People who speak other languages and therefore have different words (and different understandings) for the same thing. People with informed opinions who are resourceful and can collaborate (aka: play well with others). All this gives someone perspective and different vantage points from which to see a problem and formulate solutions.
Adjusting the college and university curriculum to meet the needs of the current tech workplace hinders our ability to plan for a future where humans are still relevant. Tech and other employers must advise but then allow colleges and universities to adjust the curriculum according to the theoretical approaches that undergird learning and student development. Colleges and universities must see this as their responsibility, and not relinquish it to industry in response to an indescribable and ever-changing ROI.
The liberal arts require us to engage with very human issues: ethics, morality, compassion, hope, despair, fairness, equity, etc. So long as humans are part of the equation, we will need people who know how to factor these issues and ideas into the development of innovation. The liberal arts remind us we are humans. All that we create, including technology, requires a deep understanding of who we are as human beings and how we function. Tech and other industries need us more than we need them.
This blog post is part of a newsletter I publish weekly called The Gigster 'Zine. It is a production of the Colégas Group, an organization that seeks to offer new opportunities for anyone with a college degree. To learn more about us, to receive valuable strategies for improvement, and to find innovative employment opportunities, sign up for the complete newsletter at colegasgroup.com.