Over the last few days, the New York Times has been running a debate on education… spurred by the supposedly opposing viewpoints of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. After reading through the eight positions and many of the comments from readers, I’m still not sure exactly what the debate is.
Gates has dedicates a lot of his philanthropic time and money to improving the state of our country’s educational system, and this article points out his focus on academic disciplines and departments that are “well-correlated to areas that actually produce jobs.” And Steve Jobs emphasizes the need to marry technology with liberal arts. If you put the two of them in a room together, would they really be diametrically opposed? I’m sure Jobs would agree we don’t have enough graduates with skills in math, science and technology to fill the need in our economy. And I’m sure Gates would agree that the liberal arts perspective is valuable in business too.
I bet if you really got them talking, they’d agree that the issue is not rooted in higher education and what majors people pick. The problem starts earlier.
I had the best cry of this year watching the movie Waiting for Superman. We have to start by fixing the fundamentals. Students who have potential in math and science do not even have the opportunities to pursue those fields because their middle schools and high schools don’t offer decent education or classes at all in these subjects. It seems to me if students have the foundation they need in K-12, the basic models upon which to learn, they can choose to go onto college and major in a variety of fields and be successful. We need more college students majoring in STEM subjects, but we also need the liberal arts majors. And ideally we want graduates to have a mix of perspective, whatever their primary major.