It was disappointing to hear President Obama’s comment recently that an art history degree was worth less than an engineering degree. For sure, the US needs to reshore manufacturing, and it needs to increase the levels of engineers it churns out. But at the same time, engineers without imagination will not create the leading companies of tomorrow. As I mentioned in this earlier post, the liberal arts education is under threat, which in turn threatens our collective imagination.
As often noted before, and noted also in Fareed Zakaria’s segment on this comment, Steve Jobs raved about his calligraphy classes, not his computer science classes. In a world where everyone is an engineer, we’ll have no companies that lead, and only companies that follow. The fast followers of the world, like Samsung, need an Apple to follow, otherwise they just churn out more incremental innovations that no one needs. On a grander scale, we could also argue that society is pointless without its culture and literature.
The solution should not be to make everyone study only computer science, but to incorporate a few courses in programming and big data for liberal arts majors so that they can codify their visions, and create apps for them. I mentioned in this earlier post how some countries are starting to add programming to their curricula.