By Christine Henseler, Professor of Spanish and Hispanic Studies Chair at Union College, 4Humanities
Some Chinese are wondering whether they should take courses or gain a degree in the Arts and Humanities. Actually, it's a good idea if they wish to follow their lifelong dreams and ambitions.
Let's first understand essential terms: "Liberal Education", "Liberal Arts” and "Arts and Humanities." They have nothing to do with thinking like a liberal in the political sense. They do, however, have everything to contribute to the freeing of the mind and to the development of thoughtful ideas and concepts in a world that is growing more complex and connected.
A "Liberal Education" does not refer to specific subjects, but rather to the development and real-life applications of knowledge and transferable skills that span all disciplines, from mathematics to science, art and history. It's about learning how to think in a way that is as agile as the world in which we live.
The "Liberal Arts" are institutional microcosms of this philosophy and often distinguish themselves from schools that offer more profession-specific programs in technology, engineering or nursing. The Arts and Humanities, then, are fields most often associated with "Liberal Arts" schools, but their value extends way beyond the Liberal Arts.
The hallmark of Liberal Arts institutions provide students an opportunity to explore, to dive into fields they had never thought about before, and to make connections between ideas they had never considered. Here's where creativity and innovation lies. The Liberal Arts can expand people's minds.
Our destinies to succeed as human beings means to navigate this global, pluralistic, mobile world, which depends on the connections we make between many different moving and un-moving parts. Similarly, the destiny of the sciences and engineering are deeply connected to the arts and humanities and vice-versa.
A competitive edge will go to those who have built solid yet agile frameworks around the thinking patterns of our minds. Objective, technological or scientific knowledge would be insufficient in a world that is desperately seeking to act more human-centric.
The Arts and Humanities teach us to perceive events and ourselves in context; they allow us to express ourselves and give meaning to our lives; they provide us with the tools to question the world in which we live and work in, to view our surroundings with open eyes, and connect to each other in meaningful ways. They allow us to ask important questions and when joined with fields, such as Engineering, Geology, Environmental Sciences, Medicine and so on, they open new zones of inquiry that allow new topics, ideas, and opinions to emerge.
Some student Fellows from a consortium of six schools in upstate New York—The NY6 Think Tank—have begun to observe a winning combination of poetry and programming, biology and philosophy or history and economics.
Accordingly, the Arts and Humanities can become central or add to one's college education. By learning Philosophy, Art, History or Literature, people have the wisdom to attain much more successful careers.
The practical applications of the Arts and Humanities have become ever more apparent, especially since smart employers are hiring individuals with strong backgrounds in humanistic or artistic fields. Forbes magazine had articulated why Slack Technologies valued an employee with a background in Theater. Ubisoft, a videogame company, discussed the value of their in-house Historian. And Philosophy seems to be the degree of choice for future entrepreneurs in the US.
The complexity of today's challenges demands individuals with deep knowledge in their own fields, as well as the flexibility and awareness to think beyond disciplinary borders as they collaborate globally. The world needs individuals who can speak the language of other people and disciplines.
A humanist, who understands basic computer programming language or engineering mechanics, would make a more effective team player. A psychologist with knowledge in a foreign language and an understanding of cultural diversity could be more effective in a post-disaster country, such as Haiti or a hunger and drought-stricken region in West Africa.
Those who can apply and think across disciplines, are the type of individuals who can tackle this century's challenges for China, the US and elsewhere. Hence, there is no better education than a Liberal Arts education.
It's time for more Chinese to study Philosophy, Classics, Theater, or Art History. These disciplines can expand their minds to enrich lives and careers, no matter which profession they decide to pursue.
( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )
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