Today, most institutes of higher learning have mastered the art of producing students who know nothing but the skill of regurgitation – most of what students encounter in school “emphasizes memory” (Tough Choices or Tough Times 30). Generations of graduates enter the workplace lacking the necessary skills to succeed in a competitive environment and find themselves unprepared for what coworkers and bosses require of them. It is “the quality of education” that a student has that matters when they enter the workplace and begin to construct their own life (Tough Choices or Tough Times 16). In short, colleges today do not provide the type of education required for one to become a cohesive, intelligent, and competent individual.
Modern employers want workers who can read and write critically, and who are capable of communicating effectively. They want individuals who are problem-solvers and well-rounded. They want people with a broad spectrum of knowledge and an understanding of how to apply that knowledge. It is with these qualities in mind that a college education should be fashioned.
Reading and writing are basic skills that everyone learns at the age of five or six. Students learn to carefully pen their names using dotted lines, and they begin to understand how letters form sounds which form words. And then they are stopped by an educational system that demands nothing more from them. Today, students are only taught rudimentary reading and writing skills, but they are not taught how to read and write critically, which is an entirely different thing.
In the time of the Ancient Greeks, the great philosophers such as Aristotle and Socrates understood the importance of reading and writing. When discussing education, Aristotle stated that reading and writing are “taught because they are useful for life and have many applications” and that they are essential for “acquiring further learning” (Aristotle 229, 230). Even as the modern world progressively moves into a digitalized age, students must still learn how to read and write. In the workplace and in life, those skills will allow them to analyze and interpret, and summarize and critique the information they receive. In order to develop these skills, colleges must enforce mandatory English, literature, and writing courses throughout the years a student attends. Students must be forced to write constantly and consistently about a manner of subjects, such as history, science, the arts, and literature, if they hope to gain true reading and writing skills.
Communication is the ability to transfer information to others in such a way that is understandable. This is a foundational skill for all individuals to possess. Learning to effectively communicate with others will help one in the workplace with clients, coworkers, and bosses, and in life, with day-to-day interactions. To impart this essential skill to students, colleges should implement mandatory rhetoric and communications classes. Students should have to give presentations and speeches throughout their years at college to acclimate them to public speaking. And since speaking “is the source of freedom for mankind itself,” students should learn how to effectively wield it to their advantage (Plato 9).
Problem-solving is a skill that is rapidly degenerating in this “society inebriated by technology” (Wieseltier 1). As Wieseltier passionately states, we have become a world “governed by the values of utility, speed, efficiency, and convenience” – thus we have no room for creative problem-solving. As we become more and more dependent on computers to do things for us, we lose the creative aspect of humanity because we no longer employ it. And this needs to change.
The workplace, and life, is often unpredictable and random, enough so that one can never be truly prepared for what might happen. Employers value those who are capable of coming up with creative solutions to unprecedented problems. Individuals benefit from being able to think through situations they encounter throughout life. Unfortunately, the way the college educational system is set up today, the “typical curriculum. . . is inimical to the development of strong, creative abilities,” which is the exact opposite of the skill set students need (Tough Choices or Tough Times 30). To remedy this issue, colleges should make it an obligation for students to take art and theater improvisation classes to nurture creativity. And other classes – such as math and science – should become logic and reason based, allowing students the opportunity to come to solutions on their own, in their own way and on their own time. As Tough Times or Tough Choices suggests, we must demand of “our students to create something new.” By fostering the concept of creativity, colleges will be able to produce students who possess highly-developed problem-solving skills, which is something that will help them not only in the workplace, but in daily life.
To become well-rounded, or to become “citizens of the world,” “students should develop an understanding of the history and character of the diverse groups that inhabit our world” (Nussbaum 39, 38). In order to do that, colleges should require students to take courses in foreign languages, non-Western cultures, religion, and philosophy. It is vital that students learn “the language and literature of any other cultivated and civilized people” because it allows them to become comprehensive of others (Mill 4). “Without knowing the language of a people, we never really know their thoughts. . .” therefore, without the proper knowledge to give insight to other cultures and peoples, students cannot fully understand someone different from themselves (Mill 4). And one does not make it far in life without being able to comprehend others.
Now, while colleges lack the proper curriculum to produce competent individuals, the biggest mistake they make is forcing their students to choose a major. Most institutes require their students to declare their area of study by the end of sophomore year, and then junior and senior years are dedicated solely to that subject. This, plainly speaking, is wrong.
In the time after the Civil War, the ideals of higher education changed. Colleges shifted from institutions that taught the meaning of life to places that exist “primarily to sponsor research” (Kronman 59). Colleges of “the early nineteenth century institutionalized the idea of research and gave it, for the first time, the authority and prestige it has had ever since” (Kronman 59). As a whole, institutes of higher learning became obsessed with the pursuit of knowledge. Every subject, and every department of knowledge has become “so loaded with details, that one who endeavours to know it with minute accuracy, must confine himself to a smaller and smaller portion of the whole extent” (Mill 2). And “in order to know that little completely, it is necessary to remain wholly ignorant of all the rest” (Mill 3).
This is what colleges today are doing to its students. They demand that each individual become so enamored with one subject that they have no awareness of others.
But life and work do not coincide with that educational approach.
As previously discussed, creativity and problem-solving are two highly valued skills. Problem-solving stems from the ability to think creatively about solutions, and creativity must be nurtured so that students develop it. But in order to be creative, one has to understand what they are being creative about. Creativity itself “requires both deep knowledge and technical expertise with one area and very broad knowledge of many, apparently unrelated areas” (Tough Choices or Tough Times 30). Creativity “depends on being able to combine disparate elements in new ways” (Tough Choices or Tough Times 30).
If life and work both demand an individual to have a wide basis of knowledge and an understanding of how to apply that knowledge, colleges should not force their students to declare a specified major. Colleges should be more focused on teaching their students a variety of subjects – everyone should learn math, science, history, writing, literature, foreign languages, and art, and they should learn them in such a way that they come out with an in-depth understanding of each of the topics. This will enable students to creatively produce solutions in life and in the workplace.
College education needs to change to cater to the skills students will need in the workplace and throughout life. Higher institutes of learning must emphasize reading and writing critically, and teach its students how to effectively speak and communicate with others. They must teach students how to think and how to problem-solve when presented with a situation they have never been exposed to. They must promote global understanding of other peoples. And they must give students a wide, overarching basis of knowledge that can be applied in any type of environment. Essentially, it is a college’s responsibility to nurture “those intellectual. . . habits that. . . form the basis for living the best life that one can” (Kronman 49).
In the end, the ideal college education should produce “self-determining agents” who are capable of individual thought (Gutting 4). It should produce students “who have gained the confidence that their own minds can confront the toughest questions” (Nussbaum 39). It should produce students who have learned the “necessary mental implements for the work they have to perform through life” (Mill 2). And above all, a college education should develop “persons capable of informed and intelligent commitments” (Gutting 4).
Aristotle. Politics. Translated by C. D. C. Reeve, Hackett Publishing, 1998.
Gutting, Gary. “What Work Is Really For.” The New York Times 8 Sept. 2012: NYTimes.com Web. 11 Oct. 2017.
Kronman, Anthony T. Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. Print.
Mill, John S. “Inaugural Essay.” Essays on Equality, Law, and Education, edited by John M. Robson, University of Toronto Press, 1984, pp. 1-12.
Nussbaum, Martha. “Cultivating Humanity and World Citizenship.” Forum for the Future of Higher Education, 2007, pp. 37-40.
Plato. Gorgias. Translated by D. Zeyl, Hackett Publishing, 1987.
Tough Choices or Tough Times: The Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2007. Print.
Wieseltier, Leon. “Perhaps Culture is Now the Counterculture: A Defense of the Humanities.” Commencement Ceremony of Brandeis University, 28 May 2013, Brandeis University, MA. Guest Lecture.