A running current through my mind has been the value of a liberal education. My officemates from China and Vietnam have talked about how they didn’t have hobbies growing up, since their parents strongly encouraged them to study hard, to the exclusion of everything else. This can be very efficient in creating people who are very good at a very narrow skillset. However, when it comes to working as a team or public speaking, they are at a disadvantage to many students from the US. Even worse, if it turns out that they don’t enjoy doing the job that they were trained from a young age to do, then it can be very difficult for them to find their own path.
Virtually every time I’m evaluated on my ability to talk about science, I realize that outside of my math and science classes…and possibly the math team…the activity most beneficial to my career from when I was younger was the years I spent in various choirs. Because of that training, I can project without yelling, I automatically adjust my breathing so I don’t have to pause in the middle of a sentence, I know how to give an audience the impression that I’m making eye contact with many of them, etc. Similar advantages can be had from a background in theater. This is something to keep in mind in an era where subjects other than math and reading are being squeezed out by high stakes testing: even for many of us in technical fields, there can be a direct transference of skills learned in an arts context into daily professional life.
I was lucky to have parents who encouraged me to explore diverse activities like martial arts, music, and wilderness search and rescue, and I was lucky to have a school and community that supported these as well. I consistently use these in my daily life, and I continue to explore new hobbies and ways of relating to myself and the world. For example, I can’t do martial arts anymore because of a surgery, but I have learned so much about my self and my body through Iyengar Yoga, which I started practicing about a year and a half ago. I wouldn’t be as eager to try these out had my parents not gently pushed me at a young age.
There is so much more to say here about critical thinking skills and a breadth of education at the university level, but I’ll leave that to another post…
What kinds of activities have you done growing up that ended up helping you in your current aspirations? Alternately, what do you wish you had the opportunity or encouragement to do?