Liberal Education

From the Editor

During a highly anticipated media event in January, Apple introduced its latest innovation: the iPad. At the conclusion of a ninety-minute presentation extolling this "magic and revolutionary device," CEO Steve Jobs said "the reason that Apple is able to create products like the iPad is that we've always tried to be at the intersection of technology and liberal arts, to be able to get the best of both . . . And it's the combination of these two things that I think has let us make the kind of creative products like the iPad." For the audience gathered, as if to underscore the point, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, this may have seemed a somewhat mystifying explanation for Apple's position on the cutting edge of consumer electronics. But readers of Liberal Education will know exactly what Jobs meant. Indeed, Dan Edelstein's article here, "How Is Innovation Taught?" speaks directly to the same point, explaining why "a liberal arts education grounded in the humanities" is the best preparation for success in an economy driven by innovation.

The argument that study in the humanities results in the development of highly marketable skills is gaining salience in the current educational environment, which is characterized by a pre­dominant emphasis on job preparation. As Leslie Berlowitz reports in this issue, data from the Humanities Indicators project "show that, overall, the humanities have lost significant market share to vocational degrees, primarily business, as the number of students entering college has increased." Among the reasons to lament this decline, Berlowitz explains, is the relevance of the humanities to "the preparation of a literate, flexible, creative American workforce."

Persuasive and necessary though it undoubtedly is, the case for the economic benefits of study in the humanities distracts attention from and, in effect, downplays the broader importance of the humanities themselves. This is especially regrettable given their centrality to liberal education. As the LEAP report notes, "throughout history, liberal education—and especially the arts and humanities—has been a constant resource, not just for civic life but for the inner life of self-discovery, values, moral inspiration, spiritual quests and solace, and the deep pleasures of encountering beauty, insight, and expressive power." In this issue's lead article, Helen Vendler elaborates this notion of the arts and humanities as a resource for life and proposes making the arts central objects of humanistic study because, as she says, they "help us live our lives."

Although it does not begin or end in college, the exploration of what it means to be human—along with the allied project of striving to live more fully—is enriched and advanced there through sustained engagement with the arts and humanities. Critically important though they so obviously are, learning to innovate and preparing for success in the global economy are but ancillary outcomes of this exploration.

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