Friday, October 16, 2015

What's the value of a Liberal Arts education?

Why is it important to take courses in the humanities and social sciences? A recent essay in The Atlantic ("The Unexpected Schools Championing the Liberal Arts" published on October 15) emphasized the value of coursework in history, the social sciences, philosophy, and other disciplines included in a liberal arts education by profiling military academies and culinary schools that require students to take extensive coursework in these areas.

Cadets in classrooms at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, who are required to take humanities and social sciences courses

At West Point and other military academies, students take courses in the humanities and social sciences to learn how to think, how to understand causation, and how to adapt to change, among other "habits of mind." West Point Academic Dean Brigadier General Timothy Trainer put it this way:
"It’s important to develop in young people the ability to think broadly, to operate in the context of other societies and become agile and adaptive thinkers...What you're trying to do is teach them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. They’re having to deal with people from other cultures. They have to think very intuitively to solve problems on the ground."
Challenging the trend at some colleges and universities, which have abandoned the liberal arts and sciences to focus on what are perceived as "practical" or "job-ready" education, this story points out that a short-term focus on vocational skills does not equip students with skills that business leaders are looking for in new employees--such as critical thinking, analysis, applied knowledge, and communications skills. Michael Sperling, Vice President for Academic Affairs at the Culinary Institute, said "We should be educating students, yes, for a first job, but really for their fifth job or their 10th job—for a lifetime of success."

“There are some governors and demagogic politicians of whichever party who aren’t listening to the business leadership and the military leadership,” said Jim Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association. “It’s shortsighted. They don’t understand what students take from courses like history. They don’t realize that what you really learn are ways of thinking about things like how does change happen, and how to learn and think clearly.”
Why do culinary schools require students to take courses in history and the social sciences? Read the full story (linked here) to learn the answer.

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