Many of our families — in both the US and internationally — often ask about what exactly the liberal arts promote. I recently came across this article — co-written by two Northwestern University deans — and thought it might start to answer this question....or at least start an interesting dialogue.
The piece argues why the liberal arts, or the focus on learning for learning's sake, can expand students' knowledge, shake up industries, and lead to greater human flourishing. And why stepping away from narrow fields of studies, such as law and medicine, can be the first step in educating better engineers, lawyers, doctors, and thinkers.
The authors encourage bridging the gap between engineering and the humanities, and make a case for why the US is uniquely poised to lead the charge. They contrast engineering, which emphasizes a set body of knowledge, formulae, and problem-solving, to literature. In the former field, automaticity and expected outcomes are the norm. In the latter, professors expect not a single interpretation of a novel, but rather care about the creative process of arriving at an interpretation.
What if STEM fields embraced the humanities' openendedness? What if the humanities embraced scientific experimentation? The result would be flexible, whole-brained engineers and scientifically inspired humanists. In other words, true innovators ready to leave their mark on an ever-changing world.
This, ultimately, is the promise of the American education system. US universities are uniquely positioned to educate well-rounded, globally-minded students, whether they focus on engineering, business, or the liberal arts.
To read more, visit The Chronicle of Higher Education. Questions about the liberal arts? I'm always happy to chat!