As I have commented in previous Blogs, higher education is, unfortunately, crossing over into traditional training objectives — and, away from the historical aims of a higher education. We see the movement away from a liberal arts exposure (with its attendant focus on thinking as exemplified by the great ideas and contributions made by history’s giants of thought and contribution). Instead, we are encountering an almost exclusive emphasis on “skills training” in a specific academic discipline with the sole intent of preparing an individual for professional labor — the historical province of skills training.

January 23rd’s edition of The Washington Post contained a most insightful column by Heather Wilson entitled, “Our Superficial Scholars,” that relates to this unfortunate shift in higher education.

“I have, however, become increasingly concerned in recent years — not about the talent of the applicants (for Rhodes Scholarships) but about the education American universities are providing. Even from America’s great liberal arts colleges, transcripts reflect an undergraduate specialization that would have been unthinkably narrow just a generation ago. (It is not unusual today for a “professional major” to include nearly half of the total number of hours required for graduation!)

As a result, high-achieving students seem less able to grapple with issues that require them to think across disciplines or reflect on difficult questions about what matters and why.

. . . Our great universities seem to have redefined what it means to be an exceptional student. They are producing top students who have given very little thought to what matters beyond their impressive grasp of an intense area of study.

This narrowing has resulted in a curiously unprepared and superficial pre-professionalism.

. . . We are blessed to live in a country that values education. Many of our young people spend four years getting very expensive college degrees. But our universities fail them and the nation if they continue to graduate students with expertise in biochemistry, mathematics or history without teaching them to think about what problems are important and why.”

Coupled with the current obsession for standardized testing (and, away from the traditional principles of learning) in our public school system, we should be concerned. History is written by individuals who were informed, pondered, explored and led when either circumstances or education liberated their imaginations and creative talents.

Heather Wilson’s column can be accessed at: She is a former Republican member of the U.S. Congress, representing New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District from 1998 to 2009 and a former Rhodes Scholar.

All of us need to learn to see “the connectedness of this world.”

More on Thursday – – – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder, ITC Learning