Liberal arts in the knowledge society
Liberal arts in our knowledge-based society is critical for Australia's schools and universities. While some students continue to be interested in the arts, others lose interest in the arts as modern technology increasingly dominates their lives. Many of government's funding policies reinforce this point of view. As a result, many adults seek to convince students that in a knowledge-based economy, their future lies in narrow professional and technical studies.
The proposition that there is no economic return to liberal arts education is inaccurate. CEOs of many high-tech companies state that A liberal arts and science education nurtures skills and talents increasingly valued by modern corporations
The knowledge economy is in fact increasing the economic returns to university education, including education in the liberal arts, whose graduates have the skills in language, communication, team building, and creative thinking which are so valuable in the new economy. Humanities and social science graduates earn higher incomes and have lower unemployment rates than many average graduates.
Many economists take a more optimistic view of the knowledge-based society. They hold that the rising standards of living associated with the new economy will in no way reduce, and indeed may increase, the desire of students to come to grips with some questions of the liberal arts: "Who am I and why am I here? What are beauty, virtue and justice? How can we build societies that reflect our values of justice and compassion?" While it is recognised that only some economists typically consider issues like these, they are not new; indeed, humans do contemplate them. Such questions take on a special urgency in the knowledge-based society, as we confront the social and ethical dimensions of rapid technological change, from protecting our environment to managing the results of genetic discoveries in human reproduction and health care.
In one of the most prosperous of modern economies - the United States - recent books by scholars such as Robert Fogel, a Nobel laureate in economics, and Robert Lane, a political scientist at Yale, have focused on what Lane calls "the diminishing returns from money" in contributing to human happiness ( personal knowledge, culture, companionship, and spiritual beliefs). Other researchers state that happiness is largely built into your genetic make up ( Happiness by David Lykken, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, University of M innesota, email@example.com).
Far from obliterating the liberal arts, the knowledge-based economy and its associated prosperity may well contribute to the growth of the arts in education and research, as young people and adults turn more of their attention to issues of individual and social values and the foundations of a good society.
Universities, thus, continue the research into humanities and social sciences to probe the depths of human feelings and beliefs and explore the complex interactions among individuals, groups, and nations. In fact, universities are among the most enduring of humanity's institutions because the human imagination has no boundaries. As a species we will never tire in our efforts to understand better who we are and how the natural world around us works.
If the liberal arts help define us as human beings, their discovery and enjoyment is a profoundly social activity, involving one's parents, friends, and teachers. Teachers, who graduate today, will play a central role in introducing their students to the joys of the liberal arts, and instil in them an appreciation for the liberal arts that brings joy throughout life for three good reasons. In their private lives, they will understand that the simple accumulation of goods is not a recipe for happiness, and that their fulfilment as human beings requires a knowledge of self and of others that is wonderfully nurtured by the study of poetry, literature, history, philosophy, foreign languages and cultures, and the natural world around us. Any economic arguments against such study will be irrelevant
Those same students, in their lives as citizens, will increasingly see the society around them as a community direction of which they may seek to influence, rather than a fixed reality to which they must passively adapt. M any will know that a narrow education focused on a particular entry into the job market will not give them the intellectual tools and understanding they need to become full-fledged citizen participants in setting society's directions. Th ey will seek those tools and understanding in the arts, precisely because the a rts are largely separate from the commercial world, a separateness which provid es a platform from which to understand, criticize, and change the social and ec onomic conventions which hold sway at any time.
Finally, those future students will know that they do not need to cho ose between earning a living in the future and fulfilling now those real huma n needs met by the study of the arts. They can do both. They will understand that the arts will enrich their spiritual lives - their understanding of self and companionship with others - whether they become professionals or tradesperso ns, or indeed never enter the labour force. And yet at the same time, as if by m agic, those arts skills so enjoyable to acquire also have a strong return in the market place
Extract from Convocation Address of Paul Davenport
University of Toronto www.trainyourbrain.ca/english/tools/davenport.html
Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.
But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart's knowledge.
You would know in words that which you have always known in thought.
You would touch with your fingers the naked body of your dreams.
And it is well you should.
The hidden wellspring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea;
And the treasure of you infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.
But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure;
And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.
For self is a sea boundless and measureless.