If there’s one aspect of the education I’m fostering in South Korea I heartily despise, it’s its vocational emphasis.
It’s not just that students can get credit for sitting in a classroom if they succeed at getting a job in their career field.
It’s that students are only concerned about the next step, and not their whole lives.
Walter Russell Mead has good advice for students, but the best is “Get a traditional liberal education; it is the only thing that will do you any good.”
Following this advice will be hard; a liberal education is no easy thing to get, and not everybody wants you to have one. However, in times of rapid change, it is paradoxically more useful to immerse yourself in the basics and the classics than to try to keep up with the latest developments and hottest trends. You can be almost 100% sure that the hot theories making waves in academia today will be forgotten or superseded in twenty years – but fifty years from now people will still be reading and thinking about the classic texts that have shaped our world. Use your college years to ground yourself in the basic great books and key ideas and values that will last.
For the same reason, don’t worry too much about getting specific skills at this stage. You are going to keep learning new skills all your life and you are going to find many of your skills obsolete as time goes on (when I was a kid I was very good at operating something called a mimeograph machine). What you want to do now is to develop your ability to learn.
1. Achieve literacy in math and science, and the scientific method;
2. Study the great debates in the western tradition;
3. Study about your country and get to know its people;
4. Study a foreign language and another culture;
5. Learn to write well;
6. Take courses by great teachers.
I wish my students could read this.