Best education for what is coming – “practical liberal arts”

experiential learningPoliticians are recasting education and putting their chips on preparing students for jobs.

This has prompted lots of commentary by thinkers and writers who disagree. They say:

  • If students study what they have a passion for, they will be better prepared for both work and life than if they merely seek to create credentials for specific jobs.
  • Over the next twenty years machines will take away most of the compensated work people are doing now. Jobs in the future will be different from most of the jobs now.
  • In the future, if not now, the most compelling need will be to know how to manage change, to learn new jobs, and to reinvent yourself, over and over. The greatest need: know how to learn.
  • Compensated work in the future will focus on what machines can’t do. That means kinds of work that are not routine or repeating. For most, it probably means that our work will require understanding and interacting with people. This will include:
    • How to interact & work with others
    • How to compromise
    • How to deal with rejection, failure, change
    • How to know what you don’t know and where and how to find new knowledge and skills
    • Understanding how people & societies work
  • Self-aware people with enthusiasm for learning will be more valuable in the kinds of work that’s coming than the ones who were trained for specific functions in the current workplace.

The best way to get what’s needed looks to me like immersion in a residential learning community. The Internet seems a good way to acquire knowledge and some skills, but guided participation in a community of learners is the best way to awaken and practice a passion for learning and an understanding of people.

The president of Guilford College calls this “the practical liberal arts.” Her vision aligns with Nereus Mendenhall, Guilford’s legendary Civil War president’s vision: “To produce men and women with well-trained minds and good hearts; people who can think for themselves and not be blown about by every wind of doctrine.”

You can’t legislate that. But you can bet on it.

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