Being more realistic about the role that college degrees play would help families and politicians make better choices. It could also help us appreciate the actual merits of a traditional broad-based education, often called a liberal-arts education, rather than trying to reduce everything to an economic cost-benefit analysis. “To be clear, the idea is not that there will be a big financial payoff to a liberal arts degree,” Cappelli writes. “It is that there is no guarantee of a payoff from very practical, work-based degrees either, yet that is all those degrees promise. For liberal arts, the claim is different and seems more accurate, that it will enrich your life and provide lessons that extend beyond any individual job. There are centuries of experience providing support for that notion.” Click.
Entries in liberal arts (8)
"If college graduates are no longer reading the newspaper, keeping up with the news, talking about politics and public affairs — how do you have a democratic society moving forward?" Click.
It comes from not being one thing as an individual. Being an artist and a kind of would-be scientist, or science groupie, I had that decision to make in college. I was studying physics and astronomy and then I switched to become an English major. As a scientist, you have to specialize — you have to go very narrow and very deep to make any difference. My broad curiosity about the world — about space, the oceans, neuroscience — would not be satisfied. As a writer and a filmmaker, I can satisfy those curiosities better.
Laszlo Bock, who is in charge of all hiring at Google, to Tom Friedman in today's New York Times:
They are "phenomenally important," especially when you combine them with other disciplines. "Ten years ago behavioral economics was rarely referenced. But [then] you apply social science to economics and suddenly there's this whole new field. I think a lot about how the most interesting things are happening at the intersection of two fields. To pursue that, you need expertise in both fields. You have to understand economics and psychology or statistics and physics [and] bring them together. You need some people who are holistic thinkers and have liberal arts backgrounds and some who are deep functional experts. Building that balance is hard, but that's where you end up building great societies, great organizations."
Thank you for your excellent editorial on the value of the humanities in education. There is one more value that I would like to include.
I've been teaching for almost 50 years, and when people ask me what I teach, I tell them empathy. Literature, history and art let us walk in the shoes of others, take on their identity for a time, feel their joys and sorrows, loves and pains. They rescue us from the narrow confines of the time and culture in which we were born. They allow us to identify with people and experiences which, except for that experience, would be solely "other." They enlarge our humanity, for we see others with a complexity that goes beyond stereotype, that says to us that under the circumstances recorded in the work, I too could act or feel the way that character does.
The Holocaust and other genocides of our time have shown us all too clearly what can occur to our fellow humans when we reduce them to "other." We experience almost daily politics without empathy. Conversely, the manager who has experienced the economic pain and suffering of a character like Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman will, through that experience, be a better manager.
Empathy is not necessarily agreement, but it makes the relationship with people and even nations with whom we disagree essentially different because we understand them in the complexity of a shared humanity and within the context of their culture.
As we grow more global, as events around the world or on our border with Mexico affect us more closely, the empathy that the humanities provide may be our education's most valuable product.
One answer, in a letter to the editor in today's New York Times, from Tal J. Zlotnitsky of nearby Trinity of Pasco County:
The problem is the emergence of 24-hour propaganda-spewing partisan media and the blogosphere at the same time that traditional media, particularly print media, are being both drowned out and financially battered by the Internet. Special interests have taken advantage of the resulting chaos. The result is that many well-meaning and decent Americans who are anything but selfish simply don’t know where and whom to turn to for facts and leadership anymore.
Unable to decipher the truth from spin on issues ranging from climate change to deficit spending during a recession, and facing a scary and rapidly changing global economy, more Americans than ever are susceptible to the snake-oil-selling agents of special interests.
Another reason we need liberal arts education right now not less but more.