Americans have long been skeptical of the liberal arts. Frequently this takes the form of a discussion of whether a degree in history or literature is “worth it” in a purely economic sense. Annual reports highlight the top-earning college majors, subtly encouraging students to forgo a class in literature or history in favor of something useful, like nursing or engineering.
Perhaps it’s a reflection of our innate American pragmatism.
Now, schools across the Pacific seem to share this bias. The Wall Street Journal reports that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called on Japan’s 86 universities to “redefine their missions.”
The Journal writes:
“The drive is part of Mr. Abe’s efforts to revitalize Japan, injecting more dynamism and innovation into the economy through a greater focus on research, and improving the competitiveness of its graduates with precisely tailored course work.”
As Japanese companies have slashed their training programs, the burden of teaching students organizational and social skills has apparently fallen on universities. Lest some schools be reluctant to reform, Abe has tied allocation of government funding to how well the universities embrace his proposed educational vision.
To support job training, universities are planning to cut enrollment in the humanities drastically, replacing these programs with more job training.
But aren’t students receiving enough of that already? The Japanese educational system already pushes many students towards vocational training and emphasizes skills in mathematics and English above the arts and humanities.
A strong liberal arts education encourages students to think critically of the world around them and to place events within their social and historical context. Reading philosophy trains the mind to reason and think abstractly, while literature depicts the questioning trials and torments of the human soul.
If you can teach a student how to think well, doesn’t it stand to reason that he would be organized and articulate enough to confront the workplace as well?