We Are The Humanities: How Humanities Prepare Non-Trads for the Business WorldKaren Southall Watts | Contract Trainer, Pacific Community Resources Self-Employment Program
Some things just go together, like peanut butter and jelly, milk and cookies, Kirk and Spock, study of the humanities and success in the business world. Yes, you read that right. In the May 2015 issue of Entrepreneur magazine, Editor in Chief Amy C. Cosper shares her thoughts on her degree in Italian art history and her success in business. For those of us who still believe in a well-rounded education the piece was inspirational.
In the past few months, I’ve been involved in many discussions, in personal and professional circles, about the study of humanities, specifically for students not pursing a humanities related degree. Now one might wonder why a business trainer, who has spent almost a decade in various roles at a technical college would spend time pondering and discussing the humanities. Isn’t the classical education a thing of the past? Hasn’t popular wisdom declared that job training is the main goal for adult education? As Ms. Cosper points out, her degree may say art history, but her “expertise is in critical thought.”
As educators and as a society we cannot allow a complete abandonment of the courses where critical thinking, writing and discourse skills are born. If we do, we risk terrible consequences. In the short term, we end up with graduates from two- and four-year schools who lack the advanced problem-solving skills and communication skills so in demand with employers. In the long term, we risk a population that is easily duped by “slick” politicians, is culturally ignorant of the rest of the world, and that lacks the self-reflective attitude to realize either and seek intellectual stimulation or guidance. This would create a bleak future indeed.
It’s true that most modern students are thinking about student loans, marketable skills and matching individual talents to a future job and not attending salons to thresh out philosophical questions. Yet, some exposure to the humanities is not really a luxury in the global marketplace, but an essential building block for achievement. The study of humanities, the many fields traditionally within the general college or liberal arts divisions of institutions, is the study of what makes us who we are. History, language and anthropology courses introduce us to the peoples of the world. The visual and performing arts allow us to share emotions across the barriers of time and geography. Understanding our individual experiences and then extending this understanding to the experiences of others happens through literature, while philosophy and law help us to bring order to our understanding.
So, what’s to be done, especially in a world where returning to older education models seems expensive and regressive?
- Insist that courses covering classical and historical information are periodically reviewed and refreshed. Incorporate new technologies when possible and point out cross-discipline connections.
- Create new courses based on current world events and regional cultural uniqueness. Listen to student input regarding topics.
- Utilize non-course or alternative course delivery. Full semester courses or years of electives may not be viable options for some students. Consider offering seminars, workshops and using guest speakers (artists, performers, authors, activists etc.) to bring the humanities to life.
Employers are clamoring for workers with solid technical skills and background, but they want these workers to be able to communicate, analyze information and work within a culturally diverse environment. What is your institution doing to meet the modern need for a well-rounded education? How can we contribute to a workforce that is not just well trained but truly educated? Please share your feedback and best practices with the community.
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 Amy Cosper, “Why Entrepreneurs are Shepherds of Renaissance,” Entrepreneur, April 21, 2015. Accessed at http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/244482
Author Perspective: Educator