Wednesday, March 30, 2011

One Reason I Support Having A Well-Rounded Education

Being "worldly" never hurt anyone.

A graduate of Dickinson College serving as an infantry platoon recently leader praised -- of all things -- his liberal arts education for helping his unit make military gains in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan.

One day, as he recounted in an e-mail that he sent to Dickinson President William G. Durden, the graduate, who was commissioned through Dickinson’s Reserve Officers Training Corps and majored in Middle Eastern history, found himself sharing small talk with five village elders. After he recited the first chapter of the Koran (which he learned as part of a class assignment), the first lieutenant earned the men’s trust, he wrote to Durden.

Soon after, one of the men handed over five small papers which appeared to be “night letters,” or notes left by the Taliban on local mosques or the doors of homes. Typically, such letters urge resistance or threaten violence to those who cooperate with American forces. These, however, were asking for help. “The three letters this man gave to me thus signaled a major shift in Taliban morale in our area of operations, and at the end of the day became very valuable intelligence information,” the unnamed lieutenant wrote.

This episode -- which demonstrates how core liberal arts subjects, such as foreign language, cultural studies and history can yield better-trained, more culturally sophisticated soldiers and officers -- illustrates the kind of thing that Dickinson’s administration and military analysts want to see happening more often. And, by ensuring that future military leaders learn on campus alongside more typical students, higher education and military officials hope to start bridging the divide that separates servicemen and -women from the rest of society. link


Steve USMA '85 said...

Totally agree Darren. Our extensive education on diverse things has served me well over the years. Psychology helped understand what motivates people and how to use that understanding to get the most out of diverse people I have had to work with over the past 26 years.

European history helped me to work with the German, French (ugh), and British while stationed in Germany. Understanding the cultures and why they both hate each other but also desire to work together made their idiosyncrasies not so weird.

Studying the speeches of Martin Luther King helped me to better understand the Civil Rights movement which was important as I worked with many minorities in the Army. It also helped me become a better speaker myself.

I always get a wry laugh when I hear some teenager wonder why they have to take some 'boring' class. I just think you never know what will be useful later in life. In 1977, my father made me take a year-long typing class in high school. I thought he was wasting my time until the first day when I realized I was in a class of 50 students and only three were guys. 'twas fun. But the real return came when I realized that Dad knew that the world was going to computers and typing skills would be invaluable. Being able to type 100+ words per minutes has been one of the best things I learned in four years of high school.

MikeAT said...


One of the best 50 bucks I ever spent was for a typing class at a community college in New Orleans.  Can't live without it.  


Spring  of 87 I remember a survey coming out that showed people with Liberal Arts degrees made less money starting out in college but made more in the long run because they had a more rounded education and handled people better than more technically educated people. 

Anonymous said...

MikeAT: "Spring of 87 I remember a survey coming out that showed people with Liberal Arts degrees made less money starting out in college but made more in the long run because they had a more rounded education and handled people better than more technically educated people."

I, too, have seen summaries of these sorts of surveys, but the summaries are often very underspecified.

Do engineers with 4-year degrees make, on average, the same amount as non-engineers with 4-year degrees? This is what the administration at my university 20+ years ago told the parents of the incoming freshman. I don't think very many people believed them (and I don't believe them, either).

Is the idea that most senior executives make *MUCH* more than a typical engineer, and that most senior executives aren't engineers with the result that the average non-engineer makes the same amount as the average engineer, but that this is not true for medians? I doubt this, too, but don't even know if this is the claim.

Is the idea that engineers are being compared with a pool that includes lawyers and doctors? So lots of 4-year degrees against a pool with lots of graduate level education? Again, I don't know.

What I do believe is that the median 4-year engineer makes more than the median 4-year degree non-engineer. I suspect that this is true also for master's degrees, and probably PhDs as well (though MDs probably make more than PhD engineers).

In any event, I will only believe this sort of study when I can read the actual claims myself and see the data. I'm willing to believe that there are degrees (accounting, for example) that pay better at equivalent education levels. But I also believe that for many/most non-STEM degrees (sociology, psychology, communications, women's studies, history, you-get-the-idea), it is *NOT* true that after ten years or so the pay has, on average, evened up.

-Mark Roulo

MikeAT said...


Good point on the specifics...or lack there of.

As I recall (almost quarter century memory here) the pool was libeal arts vs technical and scientific fields at the bachelors level, one that would rule out the doctors and lawyers.

And we both have heard the saying....there are lies, there are damned lies and then there are statistics.

Ellen K said...

One of the reasons I continue to include Art History is because it is part of the fabric of our culture. You would be amazed at the number of common references come from artworks, artists and images. Just the fifteen minutes of fame can be attributed to Andy Warhol. But it's more than that. Art and liberal arts are the colors that fill in the lines left by raw graphs and charts. While the concept of Manifest Destiny is written, the images of the Hudson River School and American Romanticism make those days come alive. I remember having a student who hated all the art history and complained incessantly. He came back from his AP American History test with a wry grin on his face. It seems there were six questions regarding Manifest Destiny and the Hudson River school. The socalled core classes are wonderful, but the other classes make them richer if they are taught correctly. While the push is on to delete even AP classes due to money constraints let's not forget that there are things we should reach for and not all of them are defined in books.