Flexibility in a fast changing world

The importance of the humanities, addressed by Dan Edelstein in this publication, reminded me of a couple of articles I had come across before on “Why Top Tech CEOs Want Employees with Liberal Arts Degrees” and “How Studying Philosophy Led Me to the Executive Suite“. A couple of quotes that stood out for me from the first one of these two was: “It’s a horrible irony that at the very moment the world has become more complex, we’re encouraging our young people to be highly specialized in one task. We are doing a disservice to young people by telling them that life is a straight path. The liberal arts are still relevant because they prepare students to be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances.” and “…the liberal arts train students to thrive in subjectivity and ambiguity, a necessary skill in the tech world where few things are black and white.”

It can also be expanded to the irony that the main fields that are changing at a faster pace than any other, those related to science and technology, are following the same outdated educational system where students are being forced to comply to a predetermined set of rules and provide a predetermined set of answers. This instills the notion that they should be looking for the “right” answer instead of considering a broad range of options, and their implications, which seems to be closer to what they will be faced with out in “the real world”. People with a background in humanities are considered to be better suited to adapt to fast and drastic changes without being thrown off or paralyzed by them. Proof of this should be shared with teachers at all levels of the academy, especially those in STEM fields which seem to be some of the biggest opponents to humanities as part of their curricula. In their quest for all things technical (since everything else is perceived as a waste of time), STEM educational programs can be generating less critical-thinkers/problem-solvers and more oompa loompas.

On the piece by Parker Palmer on the “New Professional“, the author refers to educators avoiding recognizing their students as human beings with their own set of emotions. I kept thinking about how this behavior would translate for underrepresented minorities in any field and their relationships with their mentors and educators. If educators don’t want to engage with their students on a deeper or even personal level, it can make them less equipped to understand and effectively communicate with students from different backgrounds to their own. When colleges and universities start pushing for an increase in admissions for underrepresented minorities without proper training to the faculty and administrators who will be key players in their education, it can be a disservice to these students where the people and resources at their disposal do not meet their particular needs. It seems that programs receive both pressure and incentives to increasing diversity without proper training on how to best manage this new landscape in higher education.

3 thoughts on “Flexibility in a fast changing world”

  1. While I agree with you, I think it is necessary to think about what actually is doable in our classrooms in the school culture we have now. It is great to have an ideal teacher and teaching context, but we must realize what is reachable and take things step by step.

  2. There are B.A. degrees in engineering. When it occurred to me that such a thing may be useful to integrate engineering with arts, humanities, and social sciences, I was surprised to find that it already exists, and there are several institutions that offer the B.A. degree. It’s not considered a terminal degree for a practicing engineer. One would take an additional year to complete a B.S. or B.Eng. degree in engineering. It seems to me that the B.A. degree with the option of a 5th year for a technical specialty could be a great model of engineering education to prepare “New Professionals.”

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