AAC&U News: May 2015
Perspectives

Starving for Wisdom

By Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times, April 16, 2015

“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.” Those words from E.O. Wilson perfectly capture “the dilemma of our era,” says New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.  Modern technology puts the world’s information at our fingertips, but what do we do with it? It takes strong critical thinking skills, and the perspective gained from studying a broad range of subjects, to use information wisely. It takes, in other words, a liberal education.  Still, pundits, politicians, and the public at large can be skeptical about the merits of education that isn’t obviously vocational. So Kristof offers three reasons why liberal education is good for individuals and for society.

First, an education that includes studies in the arts and humanities is actually quite valuable in the job market. “A broad liberal arts education is a key pathway to success in the twenty-first-century economy,” according to Harvard labor economist Lawrence Katz, who notes that the economic return on pure technical skills is diminishing; the highest returns are now going to graduates who possess both technical, field-specific skills and “soft skills,” such as teamwork and written and oral communication.  Another, equally important reason is that “we need people conversant with the humanities to help reach wise public policy decisions, even about the sciences,” Kristof says. Technology does not exist in a vacuum—technical innovations like digital communication and genetic modification bring with them new ethical dilemmas and philosophical issues to consider.

Finally, Kristof says, the arts and humanities offer lessons about human nature, about how to understand the world around us. “Wherever our careers lie, much of our happiness depends upon our interactions with those around us, and there’s some evidence that literature nurtures a richer emotional intelligence,” he says. “In short, it makes eminent sense to study coding and statistics today, but also history and literature.”

Read the full article at the New York Times.

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AAC&U News is written and edited by Ben Dedman. If you have questions or comments about the newsletter's contents, please e-mail dedman@aacu.org.

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