My success has been earned in large part because of my liberal arts education which taught me to think, to problem solve, to collaborate and to communicate. I have also had lucky breaks, but I was poised and prepared to turn those breaks into success. Now, in my capacity as a technology executive running an international division of a public company, I rely on these skills every day.
While I had many terrific professors and I learned a lot about the subjects I studied, the real education I received was the day-in and day-out focus on understanding context and being able to identify the connections between diverse data sources. This is what my liberal arts education gave me: the ability to learn and to think critically.
It also gave me the ability to lead.
The Ted Talk from Patrick Awuah presents as axiomatic the link between liberal arts and the ability to lead. From my own experience, I know this is true.
This is not to say computer science, business, engineering or other degrees aren’t important; they are. Professional education is important, yet the traditional education in the arts and sciences provide a profoundly stable foundation for life, for work and for our democracy.
The trend away from a liberal arts education means we won’t teach the classics. It means we won’t teach world literature and philosophy and botany and we won’t teach those classical subjects and skills antiquity felt necessary for active participation in civil life.
Patrick Awuah makes the case that a liberal arts education is critical to forming true leaders. So does Harvard University:
A Harvard education is a liberal education — that is, an education conducted in a spirit of free inquiry undertaken without concern for topical relevance or vocational utility. This kind of learning is not only one of the enrichments of existence; it is one of the achievements of civilization. It heightens students’ awareness of the human and natural worlds they inhabit. It makes them more reflective about their beliefs and choices, more self-conscious and critical of their presuppositions and motivations, more creative in their problem-solving, more perceptive of the world around them, and more able to inform themselves about the issues that arise in their lives, personally, professionally, and socially. College is an opportunity to learn and reflect in an environment free from most of the constraints on time and energy that operate in the rest of life.
A liberal education is also a preparation for the rest of life.
Liberal Arts education is being replaced in institution after institution with a profession-based curriculum. A recent study followed 212 schools that had a liberal arts foundation 20 years ago. Today, only 130 of them meet the criteria. (1)
Patrick Awuah, after almost a decade at Microsoft, returned to Ghana to found Ashesi University, a small liberal arts college that aims to educate Africa’s next generation of leaders. Its first class of students graduated in 2006.
1. Inside Higher Education: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/10/11/study-finds-liberal-arts-colleges-are-disappearing
2. Harvard Admissions: http://www.admissions.college.harvard.edu/about/learning/liberal_arts.html