Rick Scott, Florida’s first-term governor, recently gave students in his state free vocational guidance. His message: study useful subjects like science and engineering instead of wasting taxpayer money on frills like anthropology not likely to have a pay-off in the job market.
Scott’s single-minded focus on bottom line measures reminded me of the satirical essay about the CPA who was hired by a symphony orchestra to straighten out its finances. The first thing the bean counter did was observe that many in the ensemble were playing the same notes. He rid the outfit of much of the duplication and massively trimmed payroll, leaving his employer with an organization that looked anorexic and sounded tinny. Moral of the story: bean-counter mentality can’t be allowed to rule orchestras – or university campuses.
I followed Scott’s advice years before he articulated it and studied oodles of science and math, planning to be an engineer. I was sidetracked by unusually stimulating teachers who turned me onto English and the social sciences. I ended up going into journalism. So if Rick Scott wants to prevent the same fate from befalling Floridians he should work to keep exciting teachers from corrupting the impressionable minds of Florida’s young people by luring them into the liberal arts. In a true market approach to education, you would not reward stimulating teaching in the humanities, you would discourage it it lest some of the best young minds be lost to fields with less value in the marketplace. Need I say I’m kidding, of course? Here’s hoping Rick Scott and disciples don’t take it seriously.
Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs’s biographer, pointed out recently that Jobs wasn’t super-smart, but he was super-ingenious, that is, he had “the ability to apply creativity and aesthetic sensibilities to a challenge.” Isaacson declared, “In the world of invention and innovation, that means combining an appreciation of the humanities with an understanding of science – connecting artistry to technology, poetry to processors. This was Mr. Jobs’s specialty.”
Isaacson quoted Jobs: “’I always thought of myself as a humanities person as a kid, but I liked electronics….Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, said about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.’”
Steve Jobs had one of the most creative minds this country ever produced. He didn’t develop it by deriding the liberal arts and taking shortsighted potshots at academic disciplines. Rick Scotts of this world, pay attention.