Move over technology, make room for liberal arts

Americans always have been obsessed with time. In his book, Faster: The Acceleration of Just about Everything, James Gleick wrote over a decades ago that American society was moving ever-faster forward toward a pace that is so accelerated, we can’t slow down enough to realize it isn’t working. We are not saving time, using time more wisely, or creating more leisure time (although we like to think we are); we are just doing everything faster. And as author Nicolas Carr asserts in The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, technology and other advancements are now crowding out time we might otherwise spend in prolonged, focused concentration. Carr writes that our increased dexterity with technology comes at the loss of our ability to spend time in reflective thinking, thus producing a country of shallow thinkers, which is a very scary thought, when you really think about it.

And that is why this recent headline in The Denver Post was so striking: “It’s old school—and it’s the future.” The article profiles Thomas MacLaren School in Colorado Springs, where single-sex classes, Latin classes, and reading the classics are the norm. All of the school’s 110 students follow the same liberal arts curriculum, including learning how to play a stringed instrument. This is not an elite school, curriculum, or group of students. One-third of students are on free or reduced lunch, and one-third belongs to a minority group. School leaders say they simply aim to attract and keep students for whom the curriculum and approach is a good fit.

Similarly, educator Mike Schmoker’s new book, Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning, calls for a return to the essentials of providing students opportunities to engage in authentic literacy practices. This, too, sounds “old school,” but it’s hard to believe that today’s generation will be ready to lead globally until it has mastered the skills we most often need and use—not the ability to multi-task, but the ability to read widely, think deeply, and question courageously.

Read about China’s entry into the liberal arts arena here: http://www.newsweek.com/2010/02/10/liberal-applications.html

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