What went wrong?
- • a slow erosion in the emphasis placed on the liberal education curriculum in the face of the explosion in our knowledge of STEM areas
- • the substitution of getting a job instead of learning as the primary goal of higher education
- • the depersonalization of higher education with a concomitant increase in school enrollment and class sizes
The time has come to reinvent the liberal arts curriculum in a form that more effectively integrates it with STEM and other majors. Instead of the current emphasis on covering individual topics (e.g., selecting one course each from psychology, literature, philosophy, economics, world history and political science), the emphasis should shift to continued development of important skills: oral communication, written communication, mining information from classic and electronic archives, ethics, critical reasoning skills, teamwork and societal responsibilities. This is not to say that history, philosophy and sociology cannot serve as vehicles for developing these skills but that the manner in which students are taught and evaluated should be given priority over the number of subjects or chapters covered. The selection of skills as the organizing force will drive the creation of new courses in which various separate subjects become integrated around some larger theme. A globalization theme, for example, would meld elements of economics, history, philosophy and geography.
The time has come for the liberal curriculum to emerge from its exile as a hodgepodge of electives to a full partner in developing students whose depth of discipline-specific knowledge is complemented by an adaptable set of intellectual skills.
Peter J. Kennelly (email@example.com) is a professor and head of the department of biochemistry at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He also is chairman of the ASBMB Education and Professional Development Committee.