With great pride, I have an undergraduate degree in Liberal Arts. Technically, I have a concentration in social science, but was also required to take a bevvy of courses in the humanities and natural sciences; the degree conferred to me is in “Liberal Arts,” so says the diploma.
Then, and now, I would have had it no other way. Neither would my parents. They dissuaded me from accounting, medicine, and law. They told me “you can wait until you have a brain in your head to make big decisions like that, now’s the time to learn about the world. Grow up.” And grow up I did. I took classes in creative writing, the quest for self-determination in Israel, the development of the Nigerian petrochemical state, and post-war contemporary art, to name a few. In doing so, I figured out, to some degree, how this world of ours works. I also began to think and figure my little place in the world. I started to understand things – a good recipe for a successful adulthood.
I continue reading about the demise of the humanities and the social sciences, and the argument they are no longer salient on college campuses. It seems knowledge for knowledge sake is well out of vogue. Somewhere along the way the college experience became a feeder system for a “career.” Vocation is the new evocation among dispirited Millennials.
Sure, school’s expensive, more so than ever. But it wasn’t a cheap proposition when I was a kid either. Not where I came from, not to mention the four-plus year delay of steady income beyond the tuition and living expenses cobbled together through personal and family savings, loans, and occasional grants.
But among my friends, arguably my overall generation, there was an innate understanding that you went to college to be exposed to things you may have no idea even existed. That this route is a forward path to realizing the unrealized. That you went in knowing not much, but came out the other end knowing enough to get things moving. We were confident. Confidence nurtured by taking an array of seemingly interrelated courses of study. We wove a strong web.
Just last month a great new book was published, entitled “You Can Do Anything” and subtitled “The Surprising Power of a ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Education” by George Anders addresses such issues. Anders posits it’s the liberal arts grads who really understand what’s going on, capable of translating the complexities of today’s technical world. In other words, while STEM graduates (e.g., science, technology, engineering, and mathematics majors) have the skill set to discover, refine, and generally make things, it’s the place of the liberally arts minded individuals to give innovation a purpose, and develop translatable usage models for everyday application. Hence, the ‘gray matter’ brain developed by the ‘left brain’ STEM kids needs a ‘face’ and interpretive language provided by the liberal arts-minded ‘right brain’ kids.
So, while today we have the ‘cloud’ and the Internet of Things, AI, VR, nano-biotech, and soon to be autonomous autos – they are all stillborn unless we have those with the creative vision to develop an analytical narrative to understand how theoretical possibilities can be applied to human experiences and realities.
Take it from three guys who never hung around to take all those required STEM classes to graduate, but took the time to select courses in poetry, law, and psychology – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, respectively.