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How My Liberal Arts Education At Minerva Is Teaching Me To Think In New And Better Ways

Posted on Feb 18, 2017 Sponsored

Imagine this with me now, there’s a vast field with multiple craters in it – all of varying depths. Your objective is to be in the deepest crater at all times (you are, of course, allowed the time to find, then travel to this crater, but the faster you do, the better.)

Here’s the catch: there’s a new crater popping up every so often, and each new crater is deeper than the previous one. So, you may be in the deepest crater at this moment however at the next moment when a new crater pops up; you will no longer be in the deepest one. It would be time to get out of the crater you are in, find the new one and get in there. You may or may not know that a new crater has popped up because you’re stuck thinking you’re in the deepest one, and when you realise you may not have the know-how to get out of this one and enter the new one.

Take some time to think about what you would need to know to solve this challenge and be successful in this field.

A liberal arts education, as one might understandably mistake, isn’t about studying literature or history alone. As tempting as that might sound, a liberal arts education is an education created for a free citizen, for them to cultivate the wide-ranging, deeply intellectual skills that are required for being active citizens of a democracy.

At my school (Minerva Schools at KGI), we’re gaining the skills that will make us adaptable lifelong learners so we don’t get stuck behind only knowing static content, but constantly regenerate and grow as our fields and the world rapidly changes.

It’s not about learning what to think or do, it’s about learning how to think or do. You can know the prescribed solution to thousands of problems and know the existing knowledge in your field like the back of your hand, that’s what an excellent traditional education will give you. However, what would happen when tomorrow you’re faced with a new problem – one that isn’t in the guidebook now? That’s where a liberal arts curriculum that contains a problem-solving unit, training you extensively on skills like drawing analogies, reverse-engineering abstractions, solutions and identifying the right problem will help you.

Our curriculum, based on the Science of Learning, in the first year (foundation year) focuses simply on four broad 21st century areas of skill, allowing the students take over how they want to employ these skills in the fields of their interests in the consecutive years.

In the first year, each of these courses tying back to a broad field of study, such as natural sciences or social sciences uses content from the field, for example, the Big Bang Theory and theories of economics – as vehicles to teach us what are called Habits of Mind and Foundational Concepts (HCs). These are essentially tools for your brain to automatically function a certain way in order to produce the desired effect or tools that allow your brain to be flexible and adaptive to adopt/learn the right skill when it recognises the need for one.

For example, from the course that is reflective of the Arts and Humanities school, we learn how to think critically and communicate effectively. From the course that is reflective of the Computational Sciences school, we learn how to use mathematical and formal logic to distill arguments to their purest form and from the course that is reflective of the Natural Sciences school, we learn how to find appropriate evidence for an argument, rounding back to course one where we think critically of this argument again and then communicate it effectively. Instead of taking end-of-semester examinations, because those aren’t effective ways of testing our knowledge, we conceive and execute projects that utilise a combination of these foundational skills.

Think back to what I asked you to imagine in the beginning, what have you concluded? Would you rather – gain very deep knowledge about the crater that is deepest now and all the craters before it, and be stuck there forever, or would you rather – gain the skills to know when to scan the field, be able to scan the field when necessary and shift between craters?

Or would you ask yourself how you can build the next crater, the deepest, newest change? That is liberal arts thinking.

 

Written by Jahnavi Jayanth (Minerva, Class of 2020)

Jahnavi is a dancer of 12 years, deeply passionate about social change and especially interested in international governance, law and economics. She not so secretly dances around with the idea of creating and implementing an alternative economic system to the monetary system. Originally from Bangalore, she’s currently doing her Bachelor’s (of Social Sciences and Arts and Humanities) at Minerva Schools at KGI in San Francisco. Over the next three and a half years, as a part of her program, she will be living and studying in six other cities across the world – Seoul, Hyderabad, Berlin, Buenos Aires, London and Taipei.

 

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