The practical liberal arts

birdwatcherIt doesn’t surprise me at all to know that Guilford College is strong in English and History and Psychology. Or even in Accounting and Business. But Guilford is also strong in ornithology, geology, forensic biology and sports management.

Ornithology? Bird watchers. How many jobs call for that?

Well, Guilford’s program, led until her recent retirement by the redoubtable Lynn Moseley, is exceptional. Students study and they do field biology. They go to the Southwestern U.S. and to Central America and to Africa, and they watch birds and collect data. Then they come back to Greensboro and they analyze what they have found and draw conclusions. And they organize what they have learned and they communicate it.

How is what these bird watchers do any different from what accountants do? Or, doctors, or lawyers, or business leaders?

It’s not ornithology. It’s “practical liberal arts.”

I think almost every job worth having requires skills in research, observation, analysis and communications. Developing those skills in a community that values effective oral and written communications, diverse perspectives, collaboration and listening – is a gift.

And, I’d hire a kid in a heartbeat, who’d wrestled a passion into a discipline, and learned something practical in the field, and knew how to communicate it.

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