Monday, February 29, 2016

Liberal Arts to the Rescue

As the sad and dramatic increase in frustration, anger, and hate reaches new levels through the presidential debates, I can’t help but notice it everywhere now. All the angst we collectively carry around follows us into the modern workplace — with rumors, stress, conflict, brinksmanship, and dark humor preventing many from doing their best cooperative work. It seems Stephen Covey’s famous principle, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” is increasingly a lost art — which is why I believe the liberal arts are more important than ever.  

Aside from following national politics, the little television I do watch is usually for laughs – Saturday Night Live, Modern Family, The Middle, or Brooklyn 99 are all a nice release for me to laugh with my family.  

However, my odd bliss includes historical documentaries and formulaic makeover shows. I used to like Extreme Home Makeover, and now I’m hooked on the Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible — people with failing restaurants contact the star of the show to transform their restaurant in 48 hours with $10,000 and some tough love on how to make over their business. I love the formula where the star of the show comes in and finds things in shambles; from the décor and the service to the menu and quality of food, it’s all a hot mess. About halfway through the show, he surfaces that the heart of all the problems comes down to the quality of the relationships between the people working at the restaurant. The business isn’t broken, the people have just lost themselves and each other, along with perspective on the big picture. He facilitates some critical conversations, and in no time the crooked places are made straight and it all comes together beautifully. It chokes me up nearly every time.

With each passing year in my career as an educational administrator, I couldn’t be happier with my decision to have pursued a broad liberal arts undergraduate education. The perspective I gained through those classes helped me consider the variety of perspectives needed for problem solving, sparked a desire to be a lifelong learner, and created a deep appreciation for the human condition and the gifts that others bring to this world — the essence of a liberal arts education.

When I find myself in a conversation with a parent who wants their child to “just pick a career,” I often say “everyone in their own time.” The most important thing in discovering your path in life is passion, and that may take time to find. To this end, MVCC helps students discover their strengths at the very beginning in orientation. For those who discover that their passion and talents have led them to a certain career or technical field, we have a broad array of outstanding career and technical programs that lead directly to jobs in the workforce. And I’m proud to know that the liberal arts faculty at MVCC believe that liberal arts programs lead to great jobs as well. Our faculty help students understand how the cultivation of the creative process gives birth to the revolutions of design thinking and problem solving. With its broad base of education spanning a wide range of academic areas, the liberal arts help people to develop critical thinking skills and learn how to learn so that they may continue learning beyond the classroom. In today's landscape, this is more important than any skill that can be taught because technology, and the workplace in general, changes so rapidly that adaptation, understanding, critical reflection, and personal reinvention are absolutely necessary for job success.

On the simplest level, we cannot reinvent ourselves, or the world around us, if we have no understanding of these things to start. Where at one time creating workers was enough, today we need a generation of thinkers if we are ever to tackle the problems we face as a society. Additionally, these skills help foster better interpersonal relationships and develop emotional intelligence that nurture safe and understanding environments where creativity and effective problem solving flourish. With an increased influence of the liberal arts, the modern workplace — regardless of whether it’s a restaurant or a college — would have exponentially less friction and frustration, and the soul-wrenching polarization of our society would be replaced by thoughtful debate and progress. 

If you have any comments or questions on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.