Monthly Archives: February 2012

why a liberal art education matters…

This is a fine essay by Vedika Khemani, that appeared in NYT. I wholeheartedly agree with the take and the stance of her.

I am reproducing hereunder, the beautiful essay in toto, thusly violating all copyright laws basically because there are only a few folks that are interested in clicking the links if I provide them, which actually is a rather sad story.

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February 1, 2012, 8:30 pm

Why a Liberal Arts Education Matters

By VEDIKA KHEMANI

Well, what is it going to be: engineering, medicine or commerce?

Most 12th-grade students in India are faced with this question, as they struggle to fit themselves into one of a few narrowly defined boxes. Heaven forbid someone might enjoy reading both Newton’s laws and Plato’s dialogues! Plato is clearly a waste of time with no practical, remunerative value. Or is it?

I grew up in Kolkata, India, and came to the United States as a freshman to study physics at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif. Harvey Mudd is a unique liberal arts college which specializes in science and engineering, while also honing its graduates to be well read in the humanities and social sciences. While taking intensive physics and mathematics classes, I also studied history, economics, linguistics, philosophy and creative writing. I am now pursuing a Ph.D. in theoretical physics at Princeton University.

Based on my experiences, I wanted to advocate for the value and necessity of a broad, liberal education rich in both technical subjects and the humanities.

The pragmatic attitude taken by most Indian students and parents is certainly understandable in a country where millions of students regularly compete for scarce college placements and job opportunities. The entrance requirements at Indian universities have steadily risen, with certain premier colleges in New Delhi posting the mind-boggling admission cutoff of 99 percent last year.

In this high-stress setting, students want to study whatever will land them a job, creating a college experience much more akin to “technical training” rather than intellectual exploration. However, I believe it is precisely today’s environment with a rapidly expanding, educated working class in India that makes an interdisciplinary liberal arts education all the more necessary.

In a global world dominated by so-called knowledge workers, the ability to communicate effectively and work well on a team is imperative. But besides raw technical ability, how do you develop the myriad other skills needed to distinguish yourself and excel in your job? How can you learn to inspire people so they want to work towards the sales goals you’ve set?

As a start, try an oratory class and read speeches given by paradigm-changing leaders. To learn the brevity, precision and charisma needed to write a funding proposal for your dream project, try a creative writing class. To incorporate vastly different perspectives from your team members, try classes in psychology and philosophy. These may help you understand where they might be coming from.

And nothing could be more practical than the humanities.

As the story goes, when three blind men felt an elephant, one concluded it was flat like a wall, another thought it sharp like a spear and the last was sure an elephant was thin like a snake. All were correct in their own way, just incomplete.

The ability to synthesize different perspectives into the big picture is far more powerful than narrow expertise in any single field. The social sciences offer perspectives from vantage points separated by time, place and society. Drawing and painting offer perspectives on what perspective even means. Critical thinking is the logical result of being able to simultaneously synthesize multiple ideas in one’s mind.

Real-world problems rarely ever have textbook solutions. More than anything, the purpose of a college education is to learn how to think critically and what questions to ask. Liberal arts colleges aim to mold their students into well-rounded, well-informed global citizens with a wide skill set — whether it is through elective or voluntary courses that push specialized students to be broader, or general requirements that force every graduate to know at least something about certain subjects.

In the throes of our current economic crisis, all conventional strategies for success are moot. All the more reason for a liberal arts education that creates resilient people who can invent creative solutions and always have new ways by which to try things differently.

As Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited; imagination encircles the world.”

http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/01/choice-on-india-ink-liberal/?pagemode=print

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