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Liberal arts advocates should practice what they preach

As a philosophy major, I enjoyed Prof. Deb Bergstrand’s essay on the value of teaching students to think in terms of the big picture and life lessons. But if I hear of another liberal arts professor arguing that employers like hiring people who think, I may scream. It’s not that I have any questions about the importance about teaching students how to think. But the implicit claim that the ability to think is valuable in and of itself has been repeated so often it is in danger of becoming trite. It’s like arguing that sports teams like recruiting players who are in good physical condition. It may be accurate, but as an insight, it’s bordering on the trivial. There may have been a time when the ability to think critically was rare or unusual, but that is no longer the case. For just about any professional job, the ability to think is not a competitive advantage—it’s the bare minimum expected. Any job that requires and rewards the ability to think will attract people who can do soa and who have refined that ability. What employers are interested in are employees who can think in specific ways—just like sports teams recruit players who are not just in good shape but who can run, throw or hit a ball, or catch a pass. Those who would argue that the liberal arts teaches students to think and that that is a skill employers think of as valuable would be well advised to realize that this argument has been repeated for so long and in so many forums that it has become a cliché. Those liberal arts advocates would therefore be well advised to practice what they preach and challenge their own assumptions about what makes the liberal arts valuable. 

-John Halbert ’89
Los Angeles