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Web letter by Jim Falkiner: Humanities remain core of a well-rounded education

This past March I had dinner with Temple Grandin, famed author, public speaker and professor of animal science at Colorado State University. Our conversation mainly concerned innovation, but as most conversations between teachers tend to do, it eventually came around to education. Grandin said, “We are eating our seed corn.” Well, I thought, this cuts right to the chase.

Why do we educate our young? There are multiple good answers to this question. We do it to transfer important skills, to increase overall economic wealth, to reduce poverty and to strengthen the civil society that is so necessary for the functioning of our representative government. The public discussion of education cites any or all of these reasons. While there is value in each one, we can fail to recognize underlying truth if we do not look deeper into the purpose and value of education.

Broad encompassing education is essential if we hope to reach our fullest human potential. As best-selling author and thought leader Tom Friedman keeps pointing out since he wrote “The World is Flat” in 2005, we had better start utilizing our fullest human potential right now. But how?

Our education must spend significant time, and by this I mean more time not less, addressing the richness and complexity of our shared human experience. Philosophy, sociology, literature and history are just as important, if not more so, than mathematics and the physical sciences. Surprised that a person who teaches college entrepreneurship would think this way? Well, as a professor of entrepreneurial studies I have a quiz question for you. How do you think technology can help humanity if it is not grounded in ethics and aesthetics or does not learn from history?

If in our Race to the Top we shortchange the humanities, social sciences and the arts, we will cheat future generations. Yes, if we are not careful we will have eaten our seed corn. Good farmers know you can’t do that for long.


The Mark E. Johnston Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies

Manchester University