Head of School's Corner
Weekly Message from Head of School 2017/10/30-2017/11/5
In the second sentence of the Keystone Mission, we speak of blending three traditions of education to create ‘a liberal arts program that is academically outstanding’. There are those, frequently ill-informed, who consider a liberal arts focus soft, and easy. Our statement, therefore, that places the liberal arts alongside intellectual rigor, is crucial, and not accidental. We teach history and science, math and music, design technology and dance, and much else besides. We believe that each of these disciplines informs the others, and enriches the whole. Yet we are aware that these views, and our practice as a whole school, need to be defended against narrow, more consumerist, perhaps more functional attitudes to education.
Earlier this year, the author George Anders, who writes prolifically on careers and education, published his latest book: You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education. It is provocative reading, especially for members of the community of a school such as ours. This passage, early in the book, gets quickly to the core of the message put forward by Anders:
Curiosity, creativity, and empathy aren’t unruly traits that must be reined in to ensure success.Just the opposite. The human touch has never been more essential in the workplace than it is today. You don’t have to mask your identity to get paid for your strengths. You don’t need to apologize for the supposedly impractical classes you took in college or the so-called soft skills you have acquired. The job market is quietly creating thousands of openings a week for people who can bring a humanist’s grace to our rapidly evolving high-tech future.
The spine of Anders’ argument has as its vertebrae the stories of success and fulfilment of a substantial number of liberal arts graduates. These are women and men who have learned, in their studies of esoteric subjects and topics, the skills of being critical, imaginative, inventive, and above all, of presenting themselves and their personal narratives in compelling and irresistible ways to employers. They are the people who can do anything, specifically because they have not been trained to do something.
Anders is not a proponent of education only for the sake of education. He is also concerned about jobs, and practical earning power. We hear again and again, in our rapidly changing world, that many of the jobs that our children will hold do not exist today. Undoubtedly that is true. Anders likens this situation to the volcanic activity on the southern coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, where molten lava hisses into the ocean, creating new terrain and expanding boundaries: “Every year, a few million people choose to work in the equivalent of Hawaii’s expanding coastline, making their mark on professional territory no one else has claimed before”. Anders claims that these explorers with a liberal arts training are well suited to this type of innovation.
Towards the end of his book, Anders speaks directly to the issue of salaries. He admits that graduates with a liberal arts degree might struggle more to find their first jobs, that they will need great flexibility and perseverance, and that they will not be paid that well to begin with.However, his research suggests that this lower compensation changes, and that in mid and late career, such jobs are better compensated than many which have a more obviously functional definition.
Salaries are important. Individual fulfillment is more important. Most important, however, is the contribution that educated people make to their communities and countries. A liberal arts education, as was the case thousands of years ago with the then liberal arts range of skills required by Confucius, holds out hope for this.
Head of School
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