It was 1986. I was a computer science major and was taking a full load of courses: calculus, linear algebra, assembler programming, data structures and a few extra courses like communication and philosophy. Each semester I had these “extra courses.” These were the annoying courses that had nothing to do with my chosen major. I considered them my filler courses and I took them because the university required me to take them to “round out my education.” I did not see any real value in them. They were not going to help me find a job and certainly would not help me as I worked through my life.
As 20 years and two additional degrees went by I learned I could not have been more wrong. My technical courses were very important, and helped me to land my first job as a computer programmer. But I quickly learned the content I had learned as a computer science student was obsolete almost as soon as I started working.
Far more important were the courses and activities that encouraged me to work with other learners, to see the world in different ways, to pause and reflect on my actions, to write clearly and to think critically. There were certain courses – technical and non-technical – which encouraged me to develop those very important skills.
I quickly learned my first profession was only partially about developing software. Instead I learned my “job” was to listen carefully, to communicate effectively, to figure out ways around the unanticipated road blocks. It was my responsibility to contribute to my part of the world in the best way that I could. At first my world was fairly narrow and consisted of largely professional work. As time went on, my world included responsibilities as a parent, a citizen, a volunteer and a leader.
The role of a liberally educated person is multi-faceted. Sure, as a liberally educated person part of my role is to contribute to the workplace in an effective way. But it is also to raise my children with an awareness of worlds different from their own so they can pass that on to their children.
My role is to vote in ways that serve not just my own interests but also those of my community, my nation and my world. My role is to be able to look at my part of the world through eyes that are different from my own. If all people took on these roles, the world would not only be a better place, but individuals’ fulfillment and participation in that world would grow.