Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Major in Philosophy, Not Business

Not for the first time, a business blog lauds the skills of humanities majors over business majors, referencing this original post from Harvard Business Review.

The argument is precisely what we tell our majors to expect about how their degree will set them apart (and it's also the reason why assessment is so tricky in the humanities!):
Any great work of art — whether literary, philosophical, psychological or visual — challenges a humanist to be curious, to ask open-ended questions, see the big picture. This kind of thinking is just what you need if you are facing a murky future or dealing with tricky, incipient problems.
Humanities majors, these business leaders seem surprised to learn, spend their time in college practicing these general-purpose and adaptable skills:
  • thinking carefully about situations which involve complexity and ambiguity
  • creative problem-solving
  • clear writing and sophisticated oral presentation skills
  • understanding the subjective perspective of other people.
I would add to that list one more essential skill:
  • thinking for oneself and developing the courage to speak one's thoughts

Not only do business colleges encourage lock-step thinking, but their rigor has come under scrutiny by educational and sociological researchers who look at things such as average earning potential, exit exams, and time spent studying. One of the authors of Academically Adrift writes:
We found that students concentrating in business related coursework were the least likely to report spending time studying and preparing for class. If one considers simply hours spent studying alone, undergraduates concentrating in business coursework invest less than one hour a day in such pursuits. Given such modest investments in academic activities, it is not surprising that business students show the lowest gains on measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication.

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