Bill Gates doesn’t like liberal arts, Steve Jobs does

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Bill gatesSteve Jobs

So Bill Gates lets us all know what he really has in mind on standards and the liberal arts. In a speech to the National Governors Association in late February, he suggests that higher education spending be devoted largely to job-producing disciplines.

In his view we should drop funding at the higher ed level for the liberal arts, because there is not much economic impact/job creation impact from the liberal arts.

Compare that to Steve Jobs, who during his release of the iPad 2 (admittedly not the most successful launch I’ve seen of an Apple product), trumpeted the liberal arts.

It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing, and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices.

I very much appreciate the view of Carol Geary Schneider, president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, who argues that

the basic lessons of a liberal education are in fact crucial to the long-term employability of nonacademics. And to the extent that they might be taken as a cue to de-fund programs that aren’t part of a pipeline, Schneider said Gates’s comments veered dangerously toward an unenlightened view of the value of higher education.

“It’s my understanding that the Gates Foundation wants to prepare students for ‘work, life and citizenship,’” Schneider wrote in an e-mail reply to an Inside Higher Ed request for comment. “But Gates’s remarks today seem to shave off two-thirds of that vision, while emphasizing a view of work-related learning that is much too narrow and unsettlingly dated. His call to focus on specific fields and departments, rather than whole institutions, implies a sharp dividing line between ‘general education’ and ‘specific majors’ that is, in fact, a relic from before the Cold War.”

And the Gates folks led the entire country down the primrose path to national standards–standards that lopped in half the emphasis on literature in K-12 grades? I am not looking for our education system to manufacture Microsoft users. For a very smart and a very skeptical country, we are sometimes so facile.

Perhaps we could file this one under who would you rather talk with.