Skills for the 21st Century

Maybe the real missing skills for a 21st century leader are buiding a house:

I agree that a liberal-arts education provides those intangibles. But maybe it’s time that instruction—at least at some colleges—included more hands-on, traditional skills. Both the professional sphere and civic life are going to need people who have a sophisticated understanding of the world and its challenges, but also the practical, even old-fashioned know-how to come up with sustainable solutions.

The problems that today’s college-going generation will face in the future are enormous—and the stagnant economy is just the beginning. Climate change, fossil-fuel constraints, rotting infrastructure, collapsing ecosystems, and resource scarcities all loom large. Meeting those challenges will require both abstract and practical knowledge. For example, some scientists have fretted over the world’s limited supplies of rock phosphate, which is used in agriculture. Because we live in a country that has more people in prison than in farming, most people could not tell you that phosphorus is one of the three vital nutrients needed to grow food crops, nor could they name the other two, potassium and nitrogen (the latter of which is produced mostly by burning finite fossil fuels). Even if students never work in agriculture, such knowledge could help them as aspiring businessmen, future policy makers, or mere citizens.

This isn’t about going back to the land, but about a merger of the skills of our grandfathers and the skills of our emerging world. Understanding a range of these skills is important to navigating the complex world we live in.

One thought on “Skills for the 21st Century”

  1. This is why I was thrilled when my Alma mater (Smith), created an Engineering program. It marries comp sci, math, etc, giving the liberal arts students hands on experience. I wish they had started it when I was still a student there.

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