There is a general lack of understanding about the "category" of a liberal arts education along with an appreciated value for the educational outcomes, tangible and intangible, of a liberal arts education. What are your thoughts about the real-world educational benefits of a liberal arts education?
Today, I saw a couple of Japanese school kids in the train, reading an English book. The kids were of about 10-12 years of age. I, for once, was happy that kids were reading an English book on a Saturday evening. Could it be an English novel? On closer look, it occurred to me that book was about programming (something which looked like python). As happy as I was to see kids learning to code at such a young age, it made me put my thinking cap on and ponder. Why is the education so narrowed down to teaching young children to code, so much that they ‘read code’ in a train on a Saturday evening?
I understand the basic motivation behind shifting the education paradigm towards the teaching of specific, technical skills. I get the reason for the myriad number of new initiatives from companies, universities or governments to nudge children towards STEM courses (science, technology, engineering and math). But it doesn’t make sense to me that this comes at the cost of humanities. A liberal education, we are told, is irrelevant, and technical training is the new path forward. We are made to believe that it is the only way to ensure that children can thrive in an age defined by technology and shaped by cutthroat competition. But that can, and will be counter-productive. A broad general education helps foster critical thinking and creativity. Yes, science and technology are crucial components of education, but so are language and philosophy. Steve Jobs was as much an artist as an engineer. Mark Zuckerberg’s major at Harvard was Psychology. Today, we live in a world of economic dynamism, innovation and entrepreneurship thanks to exactly the kind of education we are now told to forego.
But is that all there is to it?! I don’t think so. At a fundamental level, I feel that there is something unsettling in nudging (sometimes forcing) children to focus on some specific things in their formative years. Today, we live in a world where our ideas of a ‘successful life’ are not our own. The hugely powerful outside forces define what we want and how we view ourselves. Perhaps, the root cause of this is our education system. I wish for an education system which provides the right platform and environment for the children to explore the world, develop empathy, discover their likes and dislikes on their own, and form their own opinions. Then, these children might evolve and grow into adulthood with their own sense of belief, moral-system and inner-compass. This way, in future, our world will be filled with people who own their ideas. So what I want to argue for is not that we should give up on instilling the spirit of success in our children, but we ought to make sure that these ideas of ‘success’ are their own, that they are truly the authors of their own ambitions. That is the world I dream about..