Sometimes people say the darnedest things. And today a story in the National Post made me really mad. Most of our new hires these days are graduates of one of the many fine community college programs in public relations and communications. They offer excellent practical training and students come to us with the fundamentals in place. But generally, the really best of the best among young practitioners have first completed a degree at a university, generally in the liberal arts, before going on to hone their skills through one of the college programs.
These PR programs weren’t around when I went to school. I was the first in my family to even attend university and I did both my undergraduate and graduate work in history at the University of Waterloo. Christine Picheca, Senior Vice President here at Jesson, holds an Honours BA in English Literature at Western. I have gone on to a reasonably successful career and Christine is the best public relations manager I have had the privilege of working with. (Excuse that dangler, please.) So perhaps you can understand that I took umbrage with the following quote in the Post: “Liberal arts have historically been the study of the elite — for women who leaned-in only far enough to scoop up an engagement ring, for the clergy, for sons of men who didn’t have to labour for their bread. The arts have never been intended for anyone serious about an occupation.” Argh. Besides the fact that neither Christine nor I are married, this is a pile of poop.
It is true that when I was much younger I did berate myself that I didn’t follow up my humanities degrees with a profession such as law. But that was because in those early days of my working life I had some challenges being taken seriously. That’s just one reason I eventually struck out on my own. Ultimately I did come to understand that for me at least, the study of history was the very best preparation I could have selected for my chosen career. Let me tell you just a few of the practical skills I learned in my liberal arts education that have relevance for me each and every day of my professional life:
I learned to order my thoughts. I learned to research my subject and the tools to do it well. I learned to write and express my thinking in a logical way. I learned all about strategy and how to think strategically — from the best strategist that ever lived. I learned perspective — how to take the long view. I gained a lifelong interest in public affairs and the matters that will be history tomorrow. I learned to concept code — and a great many other things too lengthy to list here. I can also say that the broad reading I did in any number of courses from English Literature to Russian Culture, Anthropology and many additional subjects continues to inform everything I do.
I will leave Christine to answer for herself, but in my view it will be a sad day indeed if we abandon the western canon in the Liberal Arts in favour of totally practical studies. And it seems I am not alone as so many business schools and other professional studies are adding topics such as poetry, ethics, Shakespeare and a myriad of other subject matters generally associated with an Arts education, to their curriculum. It seems a strictly practical education does not produce the best professionals. Ya think?