LIBERAL ARTS IN THE CORE OF THE COLLEGE CURRICULUM
This piece was co-authored with Norah P. Shultz, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Student Achievement at SDSU.
More than fifty years ago, physicist-turned-novelist C.P. Snow talked about the “two cultures” of physicists and writers and the “hostility and dislike” that divided the world’s scientists from its literary intellectuals and artists. Many scientists, artists and educators are starting to change that false perception.
The new jobs, the jobs we haven’t yet identified, all require new thinking skills and according to the US Department of Education, some college. One of the skills most in demand says the Conference Board is creativity. Art based learning helps. Recently a National Science Foundation research firm, the Art of Science Learning, “found a strong causal relationship between arts-based learning and improved creativity skills and innovation outcomes in adolescents, and between arts-based learning and increased collaborative behavior in adults.”
Yet, many parents considering a college major steer their kid away from the liberal arts and toward the hard sciences “to be sure they get a real job”. At least that’s what they say. Nothing could be further from the truth. The workplace of the future requires some technical knowhow to be sure, but, as we are discovering, the path to success in the new economy, an economy that highly values creativity and innovation, is found in the marriage of the liberal arts and hard sciences
Not surprisingly, the liberal arts are the magic bullet to learning STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).Fortunately, more universities are figuring out how to marry the two to give students the skills they need,
As U.S. News and World Report discovered, “when you ask the employers at huge corporations and technology companies what they need in their new employees, they want people who can communicate and learn quickly outside of their comfort zone, both traits fostered better by a liberal arts education than a solely technical degree.”
And Fast Company Magazine also reported that many tech CEOs actually prefer employees with liberal arts degrees, as “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.”
Sure people are scared that machines may someday reduce the size of the workforce and require a different skill set.
This is not a new concern.
According to the MIT Technology Review, we are witnessing, “Tectonic Shifts in Employment (where) information technology is reducing the need for certain jobs faster than new ones are being created.”
The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the Center for Digital Business at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and Andrew McAfee, its principal research scientist, concluded, that “nearly half of all jobs are vulnerable to machines — to applications using information technology.”
The National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) in a report released two years ago said: “Teachers of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are discovering that by adding an “A”—the arts—to STEM, learning will pick up STEAM. Students remember science learning situations that contain multi-sensory, hands-on activities or experiments.” which the arts can bring to science lessons.”
Edutopia, created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, found that “Arts integration has been shown by several rigorous studies to increase student engagement and achievement among youth from both low and high socioeconomic backgrounds.”
The social skills, the importance of history and literature are well known if not always appreciated. The economic imperative is not as well known. Nor, the urgency of rethinking the vital role of the arts, the liberal arts, as a pathway to success and survival in the new, truly global, economy and society.
But saying a college is going to create a new core where the liberal arts and all the sciences are realigned and doing it are two different things. A criticism of traditional general education programs is that they are created as menu options – “one from column A; one from column B.” The choices may reflect the dominance of one discipline over the other or they may reflect the internal politics of an institution. They most often reflect a competition over resources, as the actual courses generate funds and a large general education course filled by hundreds of students each semester generates a large number of dollars for an academic department.
A common core presents students with a shared set of courses or a shared set of options to take outside of the major. While not a new notion, it is regaining its momentum. Often interdisciplinary in design, these courses present students the opportunity to gain just the sort of skills needed in today’s economy and beyond.
In the American Association of College’s and University’s annual survey on General Education for 2016 94% of the respondents reported having integrative or project based learning requirements as an option for their students, and yet only one if four report this as a requirement for all students.