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Kay: Colleges more than classroom learning

Andrea Kay
| Tuesday, June 12, 2012, 9:16 p.m.

This is not a for-or-against argument for a college degree or a liberal arts education.

It's an argument for developing into the kind of person a company wants to hire.

Consider for a minute what employers are looking for in their workers.

I'm in the middle of writing my next book on this very subject and what you, the job hunter, can do to help them see that you've got what they want.

By far, aside from particular technical skills, what employers want most are people who can think clearly and critically, who know themselves, who have the ability to listen to others and interact respectfully.

Where do you learn that?

In college, many say.

Andrew Delbanco, author of the new book "College: What it Was, Is and Should Be," said in an interview on the "PBS NewsHour" that the historical function of the American college is to help students not just become competent employees, but thoughtful citizens.

Throughout our history, "College wasn't so much an institution for preparing people for the marketplace, but it was an institution for helping them discover who they were," he says.

Ways to do that, are "notably, having those students participate in classes which are, in my mind, the best rehearsal spaces we have for democracy," he says.

"The college classroom should be a place where students learn to speak with civility, to listen with respect to each other, to know the difference between an argument based on evidence and an opinion, and most of all to realize that they might walk into the room with one point of view and they might walk out with another," Delbanco says.

Of course, you may worry that today a college education is pricey. And you want to know where it gets you in the end. That is well-placed anxiety, Delbanco says.

"We need a competitive population in the global knowledge economy," he says.

But does college have to be either or? Either a place where you get to know yourself, learn to be a critical thinker and thoughtful citizen or where you prepare to be a worker with the potential to make a decent living?

"I don't think colleges should be expected exclusively to provide sort of job-training services though they should graduate students with competence and with the ability to read and to write clearly and to think and to work hard. But they should also try their best to preserve this space for self-reflection that has been so important to us."

His argument that the classroom should be a place where students learn, in essence, to get along and respect others and think critically is just as important.

Is college the only place to learn this? Not necessarily. But it has a lot going for it.

And such skill and understanding is exactly what employers want.

The best way to prepare yourself for the marketplace is to, indeed, discover who you are.

Find a direction that intrigues you and for which the world has a need. Learn to read and write clearly. Think critically and work hard, but also learn what it means to be a thoughtful citizen, how to handle others with care and respect on that team you will most likely work on.<

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