In these days when everyone is crowing about “STEM,” we hear from the experience of Christopher Dawson, one of my favorite EdTech bloggers, writing in the ZDNet Education blog:
All of a sudden, that BA in English with a minor in theater started to look awfully attractive. I can’t think of a more important “21st Century Skill” than communication, whether written or verbal. A bit of theater? Gee, maybe he’ll be able to think on his feet and improvise and actually glance away from the projector or his feet and talk to his audience, whether that audience is in a boardroom or a lecture hall. There is nothing more disconcerting than watching a business leader reading from notes or delivering a death-by-PowerPoint presentation, droning on about slides that I could just as easily read myself on a set of handouts. Disconcerting because by the time someone is in a position of leadership, they should be able to speak extemporaneously and yet remarkably common.
It isn’t too much of a stretch to say that a degree in English (or communications, or whatever) might just be one of the more useful and relevant degrees a student could obtain, with applications across a wide variety of disciplines. The point of college remains to learn to think (and master beer pong, of course); that can happen with a degree in biophysics just as easily as a degree in the humanities. That liberal arts major, though, just might have better job prospects in a knowledge economy than the biophysics major who avoided English and public speaking courses like the plague.
I’ve always said that engineers are common, but rare is the engineer who knows how to communicate and manage people. There are many corollaries to the assertion that STEM is not THE answer to our concerns about our educational system. (Indeed, there is a growing appreciation of the need for critical thought and the ability to express oneself!)