Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fascinating Bit of Trivia on the Value of the Humanities

Very interesting short op-ed in the NY Times today on a brief experiment by Bell Telephone in the 1950s in giving up and coming executives a brief liberal arts education to balance their technical training. From Bell's perspective the experiment seems to have failed but from a more general perspective it seems to have been successful (assuming this is an accurate portrayal of what happened, I am naturally sceptical of op-ed reporting on poorly known instances from decades ago, it still presents interesting ideas though).

I tend to think this article is a great illustration of what's wrong with modern education. We focus too much on trying to get people ready to have jobs. We forget we're also trying to educate future citizens who are invested with our nation's sovereignty. We need education more to be productive citizens and members of our community than we need it to be productive employees of our future employers. It is surprising that a private company would try to give this education to its employees, I wish it were more surprising that we seem to have forgotten why we are educating our citizens. We need more liberal arts in our high schools, not more technical job focused training. No wonder our country seems like such a mess even as we continue to have such high per capita GDP.


  1. To rerant a little, I think the human needs both education and training but it makes sense to me why we would socialize the job preparation and leave the education to the individual. I can't see the world becoming more civil or wiser if everyone had read Hamlet and Hegel but nobody read Garcia Marquez or Augustine of Hippo. Education is personal and training is social, it seems to me, and ought to be produced by the beneficiaries.

  2. Doug,

    I think what I'd really like to see in education is more focus on analyzing data and getting across the idea that there can be multiple perspectives on something, all making a contribution, even if some are more right than others. The humanities are a good way to tackle this concept without tripping over too many pre-conceived notions. This article claims that even these supposedly well educated people weren't always exposed to the humanities in any meaningful sense. I don't think it's a panacea to modern problems but I do think giving people the exposure they need to start educating themselves would be a valuable service that would probably pay society back somewhat. Basically, I see the need for an introduction to this material and style of thought so the individual has the choice whether or not to continue to educate themselves. I'm not sure schools are currently graduating people even with that ability.