Maybe you’ve heard the old saying: “Give a person a fish and they’ll eat for a day. Teach them to fish and they’ll eat for a lifetime.” I don’t think it’s right.
Every now and then I like to fish in the pond across the street from my house. I rarely catch anything – it’s more an opportunity for quiet reflection. During one of these outings, it occurred to me that one can be taught the technical aspects of fishing: how to bait the hook, how to cast, the operation of the reel, etc., but will you really eat for a lifetime?
Sure, you may be successful with those particular skills, but what if the conditions change? What if your equipment breaks? What if the fish are gone? Being taught to fish isn’t necessarily enough.
Being equipped to learn about fish behavior, the impact of the weather, as well as water pH, and having the capacity to observe and analyze these conditions will lead to more, well, fish. And if there are no more fish, the ability to learn, observe and analyze will be useful as you pursue other means of securing your daily bread.
That’s why fishing is a metaphor for a college education.
Acquiring particular skills will certainly get students a specific job, but I fear that’s all they’ll get. Because of the breakneck pace of technology, jobs that are rewarding now may not exist in a few years. As troubling as that may be, a more bleak prospect is being stuck in a dead-end job, with no opportunity to advance or the skills to do so – fishing may be fun the first couple of years, but after 10 years the luster can wear off.
A liberal arts degree is proof of the graduate’s ability to conduct research, analyze findings, communicate effectively in a variety of media and collaborate with others. They can adapt to new circumstances and thrive in changing environments.
Of course, part of earning a liberal arts degree is developing an expertise in a particular body of knowledge that suits their chosen careers, but it is done in the context of a broad understanding of the world and the people in it.
So, if you’re looking for someone to fish with, pick a liberal arts graduate. The conversation will be a lot more interesting. And you’ll catch more fish.