Saturday, May 30, 2015

In Defense of a Liberal Education by Fareed Zalkaria

Some takeaways from this excellently written and persuasive book...

We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely. 
E. O. Wilson
But for me, the central virtue a very liberal education is that it teaches you how to write, and writing makes you think. Whatever you do in life, the ability to write clearly, cleanly, and reasonably quickly will prove to be an invaluable skill. No matter who you are – – a politician, a business person, a lawyer, a historian, or a novelist – writing forces you to make choices and brings clarity and order to your ideas.  
The second great advantage of a liberal education is that it teaches you how to speak. This involves writing, of course, but also the ability to give compelling verbal explanations of, say, scientific experiments or to deliver presentations before small and large groups. At the deepest level, articulate communication helps you to speak your mind.  
The third great strength of a liberal education: it teaches you how to learn. I learned how to read an essay closely, search for new sources, find data to prove or disprove a hypothesis, and detect an author's prejudices. I learned how to read a book fast and still get its essence. I learned to ask questions, present an opposing view, take notes, and, nowadays watch speeches, lectures, and interviews as they stream across my computer. 
Edgar Bronfman, former CEO of Seagram Company, has offered students looking to succeed in business one piece of advice: “get a liberal arts degree. In my experience, a liberal arts degree is the most important factor informing individuals into interesting and interested people who can determine their own past through future. For all of the decisions young business leaders will be asked to make based on facts and figures, needs and wants, numbers and speculation, all of those choices will require one common skill: how to evaluate raw information, be it from people or a spreadsheet, and make reasoned and critical decisions. 
The crucial challenge is to learn how to read critically, analyze data, and formulate ideas – – and most of all to enjoy the intellectual adventure enough to be able to do them easily and often.

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