Liberal Arts for shaping the world today.

From the days of our childhood an unquenchable thirst to be ‘the best’is implanted into our beings by the systems of this world. Our thoughts are tailored, our achievements compared with that of our predecessors and our novels replaced with idealized biographies. Being the best is not the issue at hand, but when the best is defined to have a synonym the technocrat, the definition is questionable.

Our journey in becoming the societal superlative starts with an exposure to a wide spectrum of knowledge, from drama to biology to mathematics to economics. We begin as ‘liberals.’ Taught to think analytically, question the conventions, trained to seek our passion and to be a humanist. We have the potential to become a leader. With each step towards higher education however, this diversity is filtered. The rationale offered – in order to become a leader one must undergo some conventional training sessions which help make a master out of an ordinary, the leader of a trade. Our minds are molded measuring leadership in terms of skills set. Initially shaped by educational institutions hosting ‘orientation’ programs, programs with a misleading altruism: a promise to lead hundreds of dreamers onto the most befitting path towards becoming a leader.

Once successfully blindfolded we believe, as our parents believe, in the institutional preaching’s – the greater value of STEM graduates; the greater value of a doctor over a painter, of an engineer over a historian, of an astronomer over a sculptor. We willingly embed the Bengali phrase ‘porashuna kore je, gari ghora chore shey – only the educated are capable of riding motorized vehicles (here the car is a symbol of social strata) into our very souls. But we never question what ‘porashuna’ stands for, or the significance and relevance of the ability to ride a motorized vehicle! We never question the hidden selfishness of institutions, thus never understand the objectives. In our race to become the best we obediently change our big dreams into an aspiration for a six digit salary, readily training to be the finest technocrat.

One may now think that our dreams are highly manipulated by educational institutions, only. However this is hardly the case. Our fates are mostly prescribed by some million dollar corporations. Corporations which strive on STEM graduates and thus find interest in funding the relevant programs, only. Corporations who play the strings of the puppet show: academia. Who will soon start funding the production of automatons which can easily replace our skill set with higher efficiency rates?

Some corporates however have left hints for us to pick up from. Steve Jobs, during the launch of Ipad 2, said “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—its technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” A graduate from the Liberal Arts curriculum himself, Jobs believed in the greater value of non-STEM graduates, in non-technocrats. He believed that a Liberal Arts syllabus, offering a balanced curriculum, crafts soulful beings of immeasurable essence and not just a mechanized body that can be encoded to operate under corporations, governing bodies and authorities. An inspiring proof of how some off-track steps can lead to discovering oneself and one’s true strength, Jobs is one out of hundred others who prove whyit is not necessary to study engineering (be a STEM graduate) in order to become the pioneer of one of the world’s largest multinational technology company, but rather focus on design, literature, calligraphy.

He, along with others who believed in not being another brick in the wall as written by Pink Floyd, has encouraged the Liberal Arts – a curriculum which is based on methods of exercising the right and left brain simultaneously. Other leaders who admit their success to the Liberal Arts explain how this field is vital for all.In being able to produce scholars who specialize in humanities but are also skilled at processing mathematical models and ciphering data, the field has proven to shape ambitious yet conscious personalities, a positive attitude. As Fareed Zaqaria explains, the field emphasizes on education about education, creating thinkers, energizing pupils and inspiring them to acquire knowledge. The field guides its pupils to be educated out of passion and not the need to “acquire a set of skills which can help practice a trade or a job.”The field offers a balanced curriculum including the science and arts since its formation. It seeks to free the mind from dogma, from the conventions, from the delusions of societal systems.

Philanthropist Michio Kaku, in one of his talks for Big Think said “middlemen- the friction of capitalism- will be obliterated. So who will benefit in the white collar world? Workers who engage in intellectual capitalism.” He continued to explain how intellectual capitalism will be in high demand in a future where markets are governed by artificial intelligence. He said “intellectual capitalism involves common sense: creativity, imagination, leadership, analysis, telling a joke, writing a script or a book, doing science.”Ever wondered how much of this you learn through STEM curricula? An astronomy course? An engineering course? A pharmacy course?

 

The importance of the Liberal Arts – the study of Frida Khalo, of Shakespeare, of arts, music, literatures, humanities, sociologies along withmathematics, biology and the sciences has always been evident to academicians. Well aware how mastering a singular skill only makes a well-oiledmachine out of us, they agree to suppress the importance of this field as they are bounded by unseen limitations.In light of this, the United States founded the LEAP – Liberal Education and America’s Promise, in 2005.It is a national advocacy, campus action, and research initiative that champions the importance of a 21st century liberal education for individuals and for a nation dependent on economic creativity and democratic vitality. It is based on the fact that employers now seek college graduates with a broader set of skills and knowledge, so much, that Liberal Arts graduates are now employed in Silicon Valley!

 

For Bangladesh, the Liberal arts education is not such a choice. Lack of multiplicity harshly divides our communities into the superlative and the creative. Minds are unstable, craving the arts and humanities, force fed with only with the logical and rational. The resultant – a community driven by false media reports, cold blooded murder of expressionists, outrageous destruction of colonial heritage structures, and thoughtless demolition of female sculptures within the city. In other words, a war of concepts: the logical or the creative or the logical and the creative, or in our case the logical replaced by the religious.

De-streamlining the conservative academic syllabus from its selfish aims of serving only those that fund academic institutions has become fundamental for the development of this country. Enrolling in a field which practices critical thinking and trains pupils to read and write analytically is inevitable for us now if we aspire for a balanced and liberal society. Teaching the essentials of a humanist mannerism, the Liberal Arts promises to produce thoughtful scientists, creative bankers and skilled designers. Think of mechanical engineers who recognize the arts, economists who minored in environmental sciences and social workers who have a background in engineering. Think of entrepreneurs who have knowledge in the sciences, a Donald Trump with knowledge of anthropology and environmental pollution.

In our contest to be a part of a developed economy we forget the necessity of being thoughtful humanists, pioneers and thinkers. Driven by the harsh reality that STEM graduates are offered a better remuneration, we forget what we had once dreamt of becoming just a geologist. We do not question why the societyonly accepts technocratsto be the educated ones.We submit to oppose the Liberal Arts, unconsciously aware of the benefits of a multidisciplinary erudite with the knowledge of an encyclopedia and the heart of a romantic.

Do we submit to the existing socio – economic hierarchy? Would you now allow your children to become the good for nothing musician, the illiterate painter, the failure of a comic artist or the illogical novelist? Would you dare, to step out from the conformist academia, and learn to be a master of all trades but the jack of none? Would you dare to be Jack Ma – Chairman, Alibaba, or would you be the highest paid IT officer who works for Google?

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