A friend I have known for a really long time up in Philly has become my personal source of information about the City of Brotherly Love. Hardly a week goes by without the letter carrier bringing me an envelope stuffed with articles about the schools, the city, and the county, funny cartoons odd photos, and too many other categories to list.
Recently an article from my beloved Philadelphia Inquirer should come as great and encouraging news to Bohemians. I could have written this column, because it confirms what I have been saying for many years. Here is the headline: “Relax English Majors: Liberal arts graduates are perfectly prepared for today’s careers” (Philadelphia Inquirer, May 16, 2011). Jay Lemmons, President of Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, quotes Steve Jobs: “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.” Who wouldn’t take business advice e from Steve Jobs, CEO of one of the most successful companies of the last 30 years.
A recent article in another of my beloved papers – “The Old Gray Lady,” The New York Times reported that numerous corporations were seeking MFAs to enable their business-muscle-bound executives to bring creativity into the boardroom. While I would love to have daily delivery of the “Inky,” as Philadelphians affectionately refer to the paper, I have to settle for the on-line version. The Gray Lady comes to my lawn in the morning. I get much, much more out of a paper I can hold in my hands and look at every page and pick out the articles of interest. Lemmon’s article provides a perfect illustration of the down side of on-line newspapers – I missed it.
For a long time, I have preached to a frequently deaf choir that a liberal arts education prepares a student for life, whereas non-liberal arts programs prepare students for careers. We teach students to read, write, and think critically. We provide that “out-of-the-box” thinking business types are so fond of advocating.
Lemmon also wrote, “”If [liberal-arts majors] have been diligent, they are prepared for a future in which many of tomorrow’s jobs don’t even exist yet. At its core, a liberal-arts education develops the habits of head and heart needed to master any field.”
He then quotes the famous Yale Report of 1828 (yes, that is just shy of 200 years ago!), which stated, “We want [students] to acquire ‘the discipline and the furniture of the mind.” What a spectacular line – “the furniture of the mind.”
A survey earlier this year, reported that 89% of employers want “effective oral and written communication skills among the attributes” in prospective employees. Another 81% have “high regard for critical thinking and analytical reasoning.” More than two-thirds want employees “who can understand the global context of situations and decisions.” History majors — are you listening? Surveys conducted of local employers in McLennan County mirror these results.
Latin, music, art, creative writing, literature, penmanship, among others, have all fallen to the budget ax as soon as funds begin to dry up. We are facing generations of students anxious to enter the job market, so they marginalize liberal arts classes – even those still required by many college degree plans – and concentrate solely on classes directly related to their major. I see it all the time in the college literature classes I teach.
Finally, Lemmon reports that “within six months of graduation, more than 90% [of liberal arts graduates] are either employed or in graduate school.”
I certainly do not advocate that students should now lemming-like all switch to liberal arts programs. However, I do urge them to take these classes more seriously.