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Critical Thinking And Liberal Education Fareed

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Defending liberal education

I had the pleasure of attending a talk at the London School of Economics given by the U.S. commentator Fareed Zakaria (18th May 2015). The lecture coincided with the launch of his new book ‘In Defense of a Liberal Education’ which promises to be a stimulating read.

Fareed Zakaria asked what it takes for individuals and countries to succeed in today’s world and concluded that a broad liberal arts education up to university level is part of the answer rather than part of the problem. Yet, in the United States the closure of social science and humanities departments or the withdrawal of subsidies for their courses is very much on the political agenda. Private liberal arts colleges remain part of an elite U.S. tradition while publicly funded programmes are increasingly under threat. Gone are the days when working class Californians could afford to study a degree at Berkeley for $300 per year for instance.

Zakaria reminded us that the idea of a liberal education ‘pertaining to free people in a free society’ dates back to ancient Greece where Pericles decided that the innovation of a democratic form of government required a similar innovation in education. He also made the point that the study of science has always been central to a liberal arts education. Far from being seen as ‘useful’ or ‘applied’ as it is now, it was regarded only a few hundred years ago as being of no practical value; the rather abstract study of the mysteries of the universe. Clearly, what we consider to be ‘practical’ has changed considerably over time.

The issue of defending and advocating a liberal arts education is an urgent one, he argued, because the evidence suggests that this is the best preparation for being innovative; whether in high-level scientific, new patents or business start-ups. The U.S. stresses about its middle ranking in PISA tables but it’s been in a similar position for 50 years; ever since PISA tests started in fact. Despite this, it remains one of the most dynamic and innovative economies, a position it shares with Sweden, another PISA mid-range performer. So it seems that having 15-year olds who are good at solving Maths problems is not the same as being innovative and enterprising. Instead, there seems to be a correlation with characteristics such as a healthy disrespect for hierarchies, irreverence and intellectual ‘disruptiveness’.

In any case, innovation and success is not all about new technologies. These need to be combined with new social processes or business practices. Zakaria drew on the success of Singer sowing machines, Apple computers, Facebook and Amazon to exemplify this point. The real innovations seem to come from people who applied sociological, psychological and aesthetic insights in new ways. It is often the clash and collision of different fields and disciplines which leads to progress and creativity and it is often the liberal arts graduates who can see the big picture, integrate several disciplines and understand that in the world, different things are ‘all happening at once’ rather than behaving as if they are stuck in specialist silos.

According to Zakaria, the two great forces changing our world are globalization and the information revolution. These forces are not new and we already understand them well. We need to embrace them optimistically and critically but there’s no turning back.

In summary, Zakaria made a strong case that young adults in upper secondary and higher education need a broad liberal arts foundation rather than a narrow over-specialised experience to prepare them for the unknowable future. I was inspired by the talk but for me it served to highlight the chasm between this aspiration and most of English education as it is currently organised. How distant the hope of a broad knowledge-based curriculum for all young people still seems. How dominant the instrumentalist case and how much there is still to do.

I look forward to reading and reviewing Zakaria’s book. In the meantime, here are some posts I have written on a similar theme:

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Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous - The Washington Post

Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous

Fareed Zakaria, a columnist for The Washington Post, is the host of “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on CNN and the author of “In Defense of a Liberal Education.”

If Americans are united in any conviction these days, it is that we urgently need to shift the country’s education toward the teaching of specific, technical skills. Every month, it seems, we hear about our children’s bad test scores in math and science — and about new initiatives from companies, universities or foundations to expand STEM courses (science, technology, engineering and math) and deemphasize the humanities. From President Obama on down, public officials have cautioned against pursuing degrees like art history, which are seen as expensive luxuries in today’s world. Republicans want to go several steps further and defund these kinds of majors. “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists?” asked Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott. “I don’t think so.” America’s last bipartisan cause is this: A liberal education is irrelevant, and technical training is the new path forward. It is the only way, we are told, to ensure that Americans survive in an age defined by technology and shaped by global competition. The stakes could not be higher.

This dismissal of broad-based learning, however, comes from a fundamental misreading of the facts — and puts America on a dangerously narrow path for the future. The United States has led the world in economic dynamism, innovation and entrepreneurship thanks to exactly the kind of teaching we are now told to defenestrate. A broad general education helps foster critical thinking and creativity. Exposure to a variety of fields produces synergy and cross fertilization. Yes, science and technology are crucial components of this education, but so are English and philosophy. When unveiling a new edition of the iPad, Steve Jobs explained that “it’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”

Innovation is not simply a technical matter but rather one of understanding how people and societies work, what they need and want. America will not dominate the 21st century by making cheaper computer chips but instead by constantly reimagining how computers and other new technologies interact with human beings.

For most of its history, the United States was unique in offering a well-rounded education. In their comprehensive study, “The Race Between Education and Technology,” Harvard’s Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz point out that in the 19th century, countries like Britain, France and Germany educated only a few and put them through narrow programs designed to impart only the skills crucial to their professions. America, by contrast, provided mass general education because people were not rooted in specific locations with long-established trades that offered the only paths forward for young men. And the American economy historically changed so quickly that the nature of work and the requirements for success tended to shift from one generation to the next. People didn’t want to lock themselves into one professional guild or learn one specific skill for life.

That was appropriate in another era, the technologists argue, but it is dangerous in today’s world. Look at where American kids stand compared with their peers abroad. The most recent international test, conducted in 2012, found that among the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranked 27th in math, 20th in science and 17th in reading. If rankings across the three subjects are averaged, the United States comes in 21st, trailing nations such as the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia and Estonia.

In truth, though, the United States has never done well on international tests, and they are not good predictors of our national success. Since 1964, when the first such exam was administered to 13-year-olds in 12 countries, America has lagged behind its peers, rarely rising above the middle of the pack and doing particularly poorly in science and math. And yet over these past five decades, that same laggard country has dominated the world of science, technology, research and innovation.

Consider the same pattern in two other highly innovative countries, Sweden and Israel. Israel ranks first in the world in venture-capital investments as a percentage of GDP; the United States ranks second, and Sweden is sixth, ahead of Great Britain and Germany. These nations do well by most measures of innovation, such as research and development spending and the number of high-tech companies as a share of all public companies. Yet all three countries fare surprisingly poorly in the OECD test rankings. Sweden and Israel performed even worse than the United States on the 2012 assessment. landing overall at 28th and 29th, respectively, among the 34 most-developed economies.

But other than bad test-takers, their economies have a few important traits in common: They are flexible. Their work cultures are non-hierarchical and merit-based. All operate like young countries, with energy and dynamism. All three are open societies, happy to let in the world’s ideas, goods and services. And people in all three nations are confident — a characteristic that can be measured. Despite ranking 27th and 30th in math, respectively, American and Israeli students came out at the top in their belief in their math abilities. if one tallies up their responses to survey questions about their skills. Sweden came in seventh, even though its math ranking was 28th.

Thirty years ago, William Bennett, the Reagan-era secretary of education, noticed this disparity between achievement and confidence and quipped, “This country is a lot better at teaching self-esteem than it is at teaching math.” It’s a funny line, but there is actually something powerful in the plucky confidence of American, Swedish and Israeli students. It allows them to challenge their elders, start companies, persist when others think they are wrong and pick themselves up when they fail. Too much confidence runs the risk of self-delusion, but the trait is an essential ingredient for entrepreneurship.

My point is not that it’s good that American students fare poorly on these tests. It isn’t. Asian countries like Japan and South Korea have benefitted enormously from having skilled workforces. But technical chops are just one ingredient needed for innovation and economic success. America overcomes its disadvantage — a less-technically-trained workforce — with other advantages such as creativity, critical thinking and an optimistic outlook. A country like Japan, by contrast, can’t do as much with its well-trained workers because it lacks many of the factors that produce continuous innovation.

Americans should be careful before they try to mimic Asian educational systems, which are oriented around memorization and test-taking. I went through that kind of system. It has its strengths, but it’s not conducive to thinking, problem solving or creativity. That’s why most Asian countries, from Singapore to South Korea to India, are trying to add features of a liberal education to their systems. Jack Ma, the founder of China’s Internet behemoth Alibaba, recently hypothesized in a speech that the Chinese are not as innovative as Westerners because China’s educational system, which teaches the basics very well, does not nourish a student’s complete intelligence, allowing her to range freely, experiment and enjoy herself while learning: “Many painters learn by having fun, many works [of art and literature] are the products of having fun. So, our entrepreneurs need to learn how to have fun, too.”

No matter how strong your math and science skills are, you still need to know how to learn, think and even write. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon (and the owner of this newspaper), insists that his senior executives write memos, often as long as six printed pages, and begins senior-management meetings with a period of quiet time, sometimes as long as 30 minutes, while everyone reads the “narratives” to themselves and makes notes on them. In an interview with Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky, Bezos said: “Full sentences are harder to write. They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

Companies often prefer strong basics to narrow expertise. Andrew Benett, a management consultant, surveyed 100 business leaders and found that 84 of them said they would rather hire smart, passionate people, even if they didn’t have the exact skills their companies needed.

Innovation in business has always involved insights beyond technology. Consider the case of Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg was a classic liberal arts student who also happened to be passionately interested in computers. He studied ancient Greek intensively in high school and majored in psychology while he attended college. And Facebook’s innovations have a lot to do with psychology. Zuckerberg has often pointed out that before Facebook was created, most people shielded their identities on the Internet. It was a land of anonymity. Facebook’s insight was that it could create a culture of real identities, where people would voluntarily expose themselves to their friends, and this would become a transformative platform. Of course, Zuckerberg understands computers deeply and uses great coders to put his ideas into practice, but as he has put it. Facebook is “as much psychology and sociology as it is technology.”

Twenty years ago, tech companies might have survived simply as product manufacturers. Now they have to be on the cutting edge of design, marketing and social networking. You can make a sneaker equally well in many parts of the world, but you can’t sell it for $300 unless you’ve built a story around it. The same is true for cars, clothes and coffee. The value added is in the brand — how it is imagined, presented, sold and sustained. Or consider America’s vast entertainment industry, built around stories, songs, design and creativity. All of this requires skills far beyond the offerings of a narrow STEM curriculum.

Critical thinking is, in the end, the only way to protect American jobs. David Autor, the MIT economist who has most carefully studied the impact of technology and globalization on labor, writes that “human tasks that have proved most amenable to computerization are those that follow explicit, codifiable procedures — such as multiplication — where computers now vastly exceed human labor in speed, quality, accuracy, and cost efficiency. Tasks that have proved most vexing to automate are those that demand flexibility, judgment, and common sense — skills that we understand only tacitly — for example, developing a hypothesis or organizing a closet.” In 2013, two Oxford scholars conducted a comprehensive study on employment and found that, for workers to avoid the computerization of their jobs, “they will have to acquire creative and social skills.”

This doesn’t in any way detract from the need for training in technology, but it does suggest that as we work with computers (which is really the future of all work), the most valuable skills will be the ones that are uniquely human, that computers cannot quite figure out — yet. And for those jobs, and that life, you could not do better than to follow your passion, engage with a breadth of material in both science and the humanities, and perhaps above all, study the human condition.

One final reason to value a liberal education lies in its roots. For most of human history, all education was skills-based. Hunters, farmers and warriors taught their young to hunt, farm and fight. But about 2,500 years ago, that changed in Greece, which began to experiment with a new form of government: democracy. This innovation in government required an innovation in education. Basic skills for sustenance were no longer sufficient. Citizens also had to learn how to manage their own societies and practice self-government. They still do.

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In defense of a liberal education: Fareed Zakaria on the value of broad-based learning

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Fareed Zakaria explains why deemphasizing the humanities in favor of specific, technical skills might be putting America on a dangerously narrow path for the future. While STEM courses are crucial components of education, Zakaria argues that English, philosophy and other liberal arts are equally as vital.

According to Zakaria, a broad general education helps foster critical thinking, creativity, and innovation: "Technical chops are just one ingredient needed for innovation and economic success. America overcomes its disadvantage - a less-technically-trained workforce - with other advantages such as creativity, critical thinking and an optimistic outlook."

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Review Of Fareed Zakaria s In Defense Of A Liberal Education

Review Of Fareed Zakaria's 'In Defense Of A Liberal Education'

P Chuck: I got a film degree (worthless), I know more about economics and than these so-called "smart" people who studied Liberal Arts. (Thanks Thomas Sowell and Milton Friedman) You don't need to go to school to study the classics. Hillsdale College offers FREE online classes on Western Culture and economics. Don't waste time in school on Liberal Arts, get a degree in STEM or learn a trade. Study Liberal Arts on your own time at very little to no cost.

NanoSquid: "The natural Aristocracy"

And all the Common Filth fans snickered

Rye J: Click on video -> go straight to read comments section

Joy One: If your going to read this, be prepared to have a huge sense of humour. 

Roselle Panganiban: The fact that you call this a "review" yet you spend most of your time making fun of Fareed's background and "being in a bubble" is really irritating (and made me stop halfway; sorry, it was the swearing that made me stop seeing some of the logic, but I do understand that a lot of the book sounds wishy-washy). However, I don't think that the "1 percents" are in a bubble; it's that "1 percents" are so unpopular now. America was built at the beginning of the Enlightenment by people who were reading and becoming "liberally educated" on their own time -- they didn't necessarily have to go to an Ivy League university. They were just surrounded by books (and not TV shows like Family Guy or social media like YT) which made them a more liberal and democratic society. (Postman's book "Amusing Ourselves to Death" argues for this; even if you're not into reading, it's a great book.)

Also, I remember taking General Science in my first year, and I knew something was off because I studied simply to regurgitate information. The liberal arts was one way for me to actually communicate meaningfully, with bigger ideas and not just the little details. There's certainly nothing wrong with little details, but here's the thing: If you educate a person with only the little details, they become narrow. If you educate them only on the big details, they become too loopy that it's unrealistic. Combine and merge these two, which is what Fareed defends in his book as a GENERAL education, and you don't just get unfeeling robots or stuffy literates with their noses in their books. It's about marrying liberal arts with things like math and science: You'll not only get well-rounded individuals, but also people who actually appreciate both realms of study.

Anyway, it's almost useless posting a comment like this, since (as a RhetComm major) I know 'meaningful' things that I post on mediums like the Internet mostly get dumb likes and "lmfao's" just to irritate me. But I myself am irritated at the lack of respect around here, since I believe humans can be smarter than their technologies. I am also here just to say that, hi, I am a struggling millenial trying to see the merit of my liberal arts education, and I come from a working class family. I think Fareed gives hope (small, but still factual hope) to those willing to explore the liberal arts, but it can surely remain a "useless" book for those who don't need to appreciate it.

Roselle Panganiban: The fact that you call this a "review" yet you spend most of your time making fun of Fareed's background and "being in a bubble" is really irritating (and made me stop halfway; sorry, it was the swearing that made me stop seeing some of the logic, but I do understand that a lot of the book sounds wishy-washy). However, I don't think that the "1 percents" are in a bubble; it's that "1 percents" are so unpopular now. America was built at the beginning of the Enlightenment by people who were reading and becoming "liberally educated" on their own time -- they didn't necessarily have to go to an Ivy League university. They were just surrounded by books (and not TV shows like Family Guy or social media like YT) which made them a more liberal and democratic society. (Postman's book "Amusing Ourselves to Death" argues for this; even if you're not into reading, it's a great book.)

Also, I remember taking General Science in my first year, and I knew something was off because I studied simply to regurgitate information. The liberal arts was one way for me to actually communicate meaningfully, with bigger ideas and not just the little details. There's certainly nothing wrong with little details, but here's the thing: If you educate a person with only the little details, they become narrow. If you educate them only on the big details, they become too loopy that it's unrealistic. Combine and merge these two, which is what Fareed defends in his book as a GENERAL education, and you don't just get unfeeling robots or stuffy literates with their noses in their books. It's about marrying liberal arts with things like math and science: You'll not only get well-rounded individuals, but also people who actually appreciate both realms of study.

Anyway, it's almost useless posting a comment like this, since (as a RhetComm major) I know 'meaningful' things that I post on mediums like the Internet mostly get dumb likes and "lmfao's" just to irritate me. But I myself am irritated at the lack of respect around here, since I believe humans can be smarter than their technologies. I am also here just to say that, hi, I am a struggling millenial trying to see the merit of my liberal arts education, and I come from a working class family. I think Fareed gives hope (small, but still factual hope) to those willing to explore the liberal arts, but it can surely remain a "useless" book for those who don't need to appreciate it.

wolfengheist: Fareed Zakaria is a leftist propagandist and plagiarist.

REGGIN RETNUH: All the big "liberal arts" and philosphocial thinkers like Benjamin Franklin, John Locke, Voltaie, Thomas Jefferson, etc were all self taught, entrepreneurs, inventors, and/or already wealthy. They didn't freaking pay someone for that knowledge. The only thing they paid for was the inflated price of books, as well as the risk they would be killed for their ideals.

REGGIN RETNUH: Man. if Cappy is willing to read this crap for $350. Cappy, I got lots of spare cash. I might throw you some money to review something worse.

Survival E Curios Chat: I think everybody should take a shot at public speaking. Maybe you'll see me one day:)

Mark M: An Indian Muslim who works for CNN, writing about why young [white] kids should get a liberal arts degree? I don't even know what to make of this crap

Ashandorath: Actually, if you know some of those old programming languages such as Cobalt and Fortran you can actually make a lot of money. There's a bunch of old software written in these languages that needs to be maintained, and very few people still know how to use these languages.

Rage Blanket: This roostersucker was recently suspended by CNN! Why? because he is a plagiarist and a fraud!!

Bruce Mcgrew: Thank you!I hope this shuts this guy up!Hearing him talk of post-constitutional bovine scatology hurts me everywhere and seeing him on any channel I turn him off like a bad channel and go elsewhere.

Bill Carson: Jeeze-oh-man. I would rather cut off my own testicles with a dull butter knife than read this piece of crap drivel. Thanks for taking one for the team, cappy. BTW. I've seen this guy on cnn, and he is NOT a moderate. this guy's a totally whacked hard left obama ass kissing nut job.

When discussing degrees with my friends, the morons with liberal studies degrees tend to be very defensive. When they know they're losing the argument, the final thing they throw out is "people with liberal studies degrees have critical thinking skills". yeah, right. like someone who selected their degree based on how little math they're required to take actually has any "critical thinking skills".

How much $$ to read/review "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" ?

Rodney Schunk: Who would pay $350 for a book review? You could buy another Playstation 4 for that money.

timo mp: lmfao People pay you to read books wtf

K: $350. Geez! That guy was desperate for this!

TENNSUMITSUMA: I saw the title of this and said to myself 'oh no, this is gonna be bad', considering the worthless degrees video you did.

Brett the Hitman: Now I wanna see Clarey do JBL's book "Have More Money Now"

Review of Fareed Zakaria's "In Defense of a Liberal Education" 5 out of 5

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STEM Education is Dangerous?

STEM Education is Dangerous?

Fareed Zakaria attempts in his book “In Defense of a Liberal Education” to make the case explicit in its title.

Based on his Washington Post treatment of the subject, he fails.

In a March 26, 2015 opinion piece, “ Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous ” in the Washington Post, he writes:

Every month, it seems, we hear about our children’s bad test scores in math and science — and about new initiatives from companies, universities or foundations to expand STEM courses (science, technology, engineering and math) and deemphasize the humanities.

This dismissal of broad-based learning, however, comes from a fundamental misreading of the facts — and puts America on a dangerously narrow path for the future.

Zakaria’s critical error lies in his pivot from “liberal education” to what he asserts makes for a success in the global economy.

He cites the following as example elements of a liberal education: anthropology, English, philosophy, ancient Greek, psychology, and sociology. No disagreement there.

And he cites the following as example characteristics of a strong workforce: innovation, entrepreneurship, critical thinking, creativity, flexibility, social skill, confidence, self-esteem, problem solving, critical thinking, writing, design, marketing, and social networking. “Critical thinking is, in the end, the only way to protect American jobs,” he claims. Again, no disagreement.

Zakaria goes astray, however, in his inability to show liberal education as the better path to the important workplace characteristics he touts. These characteristics emerge as likely from a “technical” education as from a “liberal” one.

So, let the job market speak. Arguably, in today’s economy, technical jobs offer more openings and command better compensation than liberal ones (absolutely no substance slight to the latter intended). Look to medicine. Look to finance. Look to the biological and information sciences.

But should preparation for the workforce drive education’s primary purpose?

No less an authority than ASCD weighs in. Formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, ASCD serves as “global leader in developing and delivering innovative programs, products, and services that empower educators to support the success of each learner.” In a July 2012 article “What is the Purpose of Education?,” they write:

In the United States, historically, the purpose of education has evolved according to the needs of society. Education’s primary purpose has ranged from instructing youth in religious doctrine, to preparing them to live in a democracy, to assimilating immigrants into mainstream society, to preparing workers for the industrialized 20th century workplace.

And now, as educators prepare young people for their futures in a world that is rapidly changing, what is the goal? To create adults who can compete in a global economy? To create lifelong learners? To create emotionally healthy adults who can engage in meaningful relationships?

Consider the skills that make one successful in the workplace. Critical thinking. Problem solving. Creativity. Teamwork. Communication. Unquestionably, these same skills form the foundation to rapidly change. To globally compete. To continually learn. To meaningfully relate.

Sadly, workplace success offers a tenuous hold in the current economy. A liberal education educates. It fascinates. But as an on-ramp to the workforce, its risk outweighs its reward.

“Job” may sound mundane. But try to imagine a more enabling power. A job puts water in our bodies. Food in our stomachs. A roof over our heads. Medicine in our cabinets. A job–at present, the province of the technical and not the liberal–provides the security and stability to contribute to family, community, and society in the most aspirational of manners.

The Liberal Arts Are Dead; Long Live STEM

In recent months, Christopher Scalia in the Wall Street Journal and Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post have defended studying the liberal arts in college, primarily to confront advocates of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Zakaria’s article previewed his new book, “In Defense of a Liberal Education .”

From my perspective as a former engineer, two caveats arise regarding their pleas: first, “liberal” education that involves “critical thinking” disappeared decades ago, to be replaced by hyper-sensitive grievance mongering; second, the quantitative reasoning STEM occupations develops also facilitates the understanding of trade-offs people need to make rational decisions among myriad conflicting policy options.

Liberals Have Killed the Liberal Arts

Political correctness has corroded the humanities and social studies, as recently noted by David Patten in The Federalist and last year by Harvey Silverglate in the Wall Street Journal . After rejecting their objective anchors in the academic canon of classical texts, these fields succumbed to passionate group thinking and sybaritic self-absorption. The arts have become a free-for-all, as witnessed by the plethora of departments categorized by identity politics and demands for “trigger warnings” for traumatized souls. (The offending list should include “eigenvectors” and “thermodynamics”—terms that strike engineering sophomores with utmost dread.)

Students who pursue STEM majors are better at the humanities than liberal-arts majors are at the sciences.

While some complain that science revises its knowledge base episodically, its consensus-driven models yield empirically tested results that opponents cannot arbitrarily dismiss merely by clever erudition or emotional tirade. Hence, STEM remains somewhat less vulnerable to intimidation using the phenomenon of shame-storming, as explained by writer Megan McArdle. Spurred by Griggs v. Duke Power (401 U.S. 424, 1971), a Supreme Court decision that forbade employers from screening applicants with aptitude tests. growth in college attendance expanded both the number of degree-holders to chase limited opportunities and college costs.

STEM curricula have been critiqued for supposedly neglecting the humanities, but students who major in STEM obtain more credit hours in languages, arts, and human interaction than their humanities counterparts obtain in scientific fields. Rhodes College professor Loretta Jackson-Hayes has explained the benefit of liberal arts for STEM students. but liberal-arts students could likewise benefit from cross-training in the more exacting disciplines.

Students who pursue STEM majors are also better at the humanities than liberal-arts majors are at the sciences. Harvard University professor of government Harvey Mansfield in The New Atlantis observed. “Science students do well in non-science courses, but non-science students have difficulty in science courses. Slaves of exactness find it easier to adjust to the inexact, though they may be disdainful of it, than those who think in the realm of the inexact when confronted with the exact.” Perhaps envy subtly contributes to liberal arts defensiveness against STEM.

STEM Is Far More Substantial Than the Liberal Arts

Even on fundamental coursework, however, differences emerge among the respective disciplines. Freshman engineering students, for example, attend an essential core set of courses that includes calculus, physics, and chemistry. Should we assume that English majors still peruse Shakespeare and Chaucer? Probably not. Do philosophy majors read Aristotle, David Hume, or Friedrich Nietzsche any more? Do sociologists study Plato, Voltaire, or James Madison? As University of Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen noted. “The humanities today seem to be waning in presence and power in the modern university in large part because of their solipsistic irrelevance, which has predictably increased students’ uninterest in them.”

Should we assume that English majors still peruse Shakespeare and Chaucer? Probably not.

Based on last year’s invitation withdrawals of commencement speakers by Haverford, Rutgers, Smith, Azusa Pacific, and Brandeis in response to demands by graduating seniors and faculty, we might surmise that what students learn of human nature hasn’t even been enlightened by reading “Calvin & Hobbes” comics, much less writings of Jean Calvin and Thomas Hobbes.

The devolution of liberal arts studies has been described by Peter Wood and Michael Toscano in “What Does Bowdoin Teach ?” and by Robert Maranto et al. in “The Politically Correct University ” regarding cultural indoctrination over reasoned inquiry. The resulting departure from pre-modern literature and immemorial visual imagery in favor of trendy narcissism and ad hominem invective proceeds apace. So-called liberal-arts students can easily reach a diploma without contemplating the real-world consequences of their pet redistributionist policies.

Science Is Better for Society than the Arts

Meanwhile, public officials and business leaders have bemoaned a shortage of STEM training that is supposed to ensure future innovation. Despite entities such as the National Academy of Science trumpeting this alleged deficiency. for almost two decades a relatively consistent 16 percent of bachelor degrees have been awarded in natural science, mathematics, computer science, and engineering, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Critics of the STEM push contend that companies petition for additional temporary H-1B visas while present holders of STEM credentials outnumber related positions. leading to stagnating salaries .

A transition from liberal arts to natural sciences or related fields would constitute a boon to society at large.

Although STEM graduates enjoy somewhat better marketability than those in humanities, human resource departments treat them as commodities with one- to two-decade shelf life, which discourages interest in STEM; so many instead embark on alternate vocations. STEM majors’ often-daunting academic requirements, for which many high schools have not prepared most high-school graduates, also reduces college enrollments in these fields. Nonetheless, the size of the science and engineering (S&E) labor force has stalled for the past decade. further depressing enrollment in these endeavors.

Even if a glut of STEM graduates might depress salaries for those who run the gauntlet of tech classes and lab projects, a transition from liberal arts to natural sciences or related fields would nonetheless constitute a boon to society at large. Instead of Chicken Little-esque histrionics, people should debate the specifics of whether more STEM graduates will benefit society at large despite possibly reducing salaries for people employed in science fields.

The truth is, S&E types likely contribute more to society than the liberal arts. Thomas Edison illuminated (literally) more people’s lives by passing electric charge across a filament than any of the sages of bygone eras did with their musings. Nicola Tesla contributed more power to the public with alternating current motors than all the revolutionaries in history combined.

Are humanities interesting for their own sake? Of course. All who desire the knowledge and beauty of humanities past should pursue a broad education. But why should this require a formal education at tremendous cost in time and money that commensurately benefits neither society nor student? Unlike much empirically-based S&E information and mathematically-expressed theoretical instruction, literature, history, anthropology, and much more are amenable to off-sight lectures and written commentary. (Conservatories can be reserved for mastering techniques in music and art.)

Perhaps boutique liberal arts colleges will inevitably close (e.g. Sweet Briar, Tennessee Temple, Bethany) despite vigorous resistance. or be subject to gradual transformation. Anyone can exploit the humanities for personal enlightenment and intelligent public discourse. However, except for handfuls of professors and researchers, focusing undergraduate collegiate study on esoteric philosophical or literary nuance (never mind manufactured agitation) seems a wasteful expenditure of human capital that would be better devoted to advancing STEM.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Harvey Mansfield as a professor of law instead of government and located Patrick Deneen at Georgetown instead of currently at Notre Dame. These have been corrected.

G. W. Thielman has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering. He is currently employed as a patent attorney, and lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia. His opinions are his own.

Copyright © 2016 The Federalist, a wholly independent division of FDRLST Media, All Rights Reserved.

In Defense of a Liberal Education by Fareed Zakaria

In Defense of a Liberal Education

The liberal arts are under attack. The governors of Florida, Texas, and North Carolina have all pledged that they will not spend taxpayer money subsidizing the liberal arts, and they seem to have an unlikely ally in President Obama. While at aMore The liberal arts are under attack. The governors of Florida, Texas, and North Carolina have all pledged that they will not spend taxpayer money subsidizing the liberal arts, and they seem to have an unlikely ally in President Obama. While at a General Electric plant in early 2014, Obama remarked, "I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree." These messages are hitting home: majors like English and history, once very popular and highly respected, are in steep decline.


"I get it," writes Fareed Zakaria, recalling the atmosphere in India where he grew up, which was even more obsessed with getting a skills-based education. However, the CNN host and best-selling author explains why this widely held view is mistaken and shortsighted.


Zakaria eloquently expounds on the virtues of a liberal arts education—how to write clearly, how to express yourself convincingly, and how to think analytically. He turns our leaders' vocational argument on its head. American routine manufacturing jobs continue to get automated or outsourced, and specific vocational knowledge is often outdated within a few years. Engineering is a great profession, but key value-added skills you will also need are creativity, lateral thinking, design, communication, storytelling, and, more than anything, the ability to continually learn and enjoy learning—precisely the gifts of a liberal education.


Zakaria argues that technology is transforming education, opening up access to the best courses and classes in a vast variety of subjects for millions around the world. We are at the dawn of the greatest expansion of the idea of a liberal education in human history. Less

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Chuck rated it really liked it

over 1 year ago

If you are going to read just a single book about liberal arts education, this is the most approachable. This is a pithy little contribution to the list of books endorsing liberal arts education. Zakaria is an interesting non-university voice in the conversation. The inte. Read full review

Laura Leaney rated it liked it

about 1 year ago

A short, lucid book that articulates Zakaria's thoughts on the significance of a liberal education. This is not "liberal" as in politically left and squishy of thought, but "liberal" in the sense of the Yale report he quotes: "the essence of a liberal education is 'not to. Read full review

Bruce rated it it was ok

about 1 year ago

Fareed Zakaria has written this very short book in support of a liberal education, ie a college education inclusive of humanities, arts, mathematics and science, and not specifically vocationally or skill oriented.

I have long strongly supported the idea of a liberal educa. Read full review

Joe Robles rated it it was amazing

about 1 year ago

I remember watching Jon Stewart interview Marco Rubio and Rubio was arguing for sensible education. Words to the effect of, "Do we need more Greek History majors?" The argument is that people shouldn't go to college for knowledge, but to acquire a marketable skill. The in. Read full review

Kat rated it it was ok

about 1 year ago

I ardently support this book's thesis. But if one goal of a liberal education is to think for yourself, then it seems fair that I take a more critical stance. The book contains many interesting examples (I especially liked the one about art history improving observation s. Read full review

Steve Peifer rated it liked it

about 1 year ago

In which a son of privilege explains why liberal education is important while ignoring that because of the huge costs associated with higher education the middle class and poor are virtually forced to be practical to survive. If you love irony, he quotes this in his book. Read full review

John Kaufmann rated it liked it

Hurray. When I went through school in the 1960s, a liberal education was still on the agenda. However, I thought it lost its currency over the last few decades with the push toward "job skills." I was delighted to see Fareed Zakaria resurrect the concept. I am a fan, and. Read full review

Cindy Rollins rated it liked it

A Short, interesting treatise on the liberal arts. This book approached a subject that is dear to my heart from a completely different angle than what I am usually interested in but, in turn, this gave me new things to think about. I liked his hopeful attitude towards the. Read full review

Colleen rated it really liked it

I was fortunate enough to be able to obtain a Masters in Liberal Arts while working full-time. Many times I was asked "what are you going to do with it?" or "why didn't you get a MBA?" and was tired of having to explain that the getting of the degree wasn't the point - th. Read full review

Kris - My Novelesque Life rated it liked it

about 1 year ago

Fareed Zakaria lays out the reason why a Liberal education is still important in the United States even though the President is encouraging high school grads towards trades. This was a very short book so while the points were outlined the reason is sometimes too br. Read full review

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