The More Things Change…

Many recent posts have discussed how business leaders are noticing a gaping lack in the basic critical thinking and leadership skills of recent graduates.They’re saying that technical know-how is necessary, but so is a grounding in the liberal arts traditions. Many prestigious schools are encouraging their students to return to those traditions.

The NYT recently featured a story about how in the 1950’s the CEO of Bell Telephone helped set up a program to train his technicians in humanistic study. A sociologist of the time explains why: 
 “A well-trained man knows how to answer questions, they reasoned; an educated man knows what questions are worth asking.” Bell, then one of the largest industrial concerns in the country, needed more employees capable of guiding the company rather than simply following instructions or responding to obvious crises.

In 1952, Gillen took the problem to the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a trustee. Together with representatives of the university, Bell set up a program called the Institute of Humanistic Studies for Executives. More than simply training its young executives to do a particular job, the institute would give them, in a 10-month immersion program on the Penn campus, what amounted to a complete liberal arts education. There were lectures and seminars led by scholars from Penn and other colleges in the area — 550 hours of course work in total, and more reading, Baltzell reported, than the average graduate student was asked to do in a similar time frame.

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