From our founding as a nation, the United States set out deliberately to educate its citizens.
Clearly there were unjust definitions of “citizen” throughout our history, as almost the entire population was excluded from the rights of citizenship — women, African–Americans, Latinos, the poor and illiterate, and non-landowners all were denied participation in education and, more broadly, democracy for a long time. However, over the centuries, the United States has worked on remedying these injustices so that we understand that we all have a right to a solid education.
This translates today into the American emphasis on a well-rounded, broadly educated college graduate, one who has had exposure to a variety of disciplines and viewpoints in addition to concentrating on one or two specific subjects through majors. It is through this wide sampling of subjects and perspectives that true American citizenship can be practiced.
Through understanding a wide variety of perspectives, scientific facts, and artistic expressions, a typical citizen can move beyond what he or she believes to be true and right, to begin to consider important issues in historical, social, scientific, intellectual, and cultural context.
However, many of our students hear, as they are growing up and especially from the electronic media, that colleges are filled with ivory-tower, unrealistic thinkers who are clueless about how the “real world” works. That often is coupled with calls for “practical” education and college programs that lead to immediate employability.
Practicality is all well and good, but it is unclear whether teaching college graduates how to maneuver around the latest spreadsheet or operate CAD platforms, isolated from a deeper, more nuanced educational experience, will serve 21st-century students, and their potential employers, very well at all.
One reason that UW–Platteville requires all of our students to immerse themselves in philosophy as well as project management, ethnic studies as well as engineering, and sociology as well as sales, is because we know that employers need people who can think critically, write coherently, speak well, and work with a variety of people from a panoply of societies and cultures around the world.
Employers tell us over and over again that our job is to educate students for a global reality; they will take care of their own specific training needs. For the companies for whom our graduates are likely to work, a deep and broad exposure to philosophy, ethnic and gender studies, history, the arts, literature, and public speaking, as well as the sciences, is crucial.
Our graduates’ employers need people well versed in the liberal arts and sciences as well as in the fundamentals of their particular professional or pre-professional disciplines.
So it is clear that college graduates today need to be creative and innovative in a complex global economy; they must work with foresight and integrity and, most importantly, they have to be aware of the broader impact of decisions they make in their work. Often, programs focused on specific skills are too narrow, and creative thinking is not encouraged or fostered. Students need to understand the world and their place in it, experiencing varied bodies of knowledge, having both practical and intellectual learning opportunities. They need to be able to understand and experience multiple points of view and be able to ask a variety of questions. So professors must have the ability to help students integrate the liberal arts and sciences with whatever their major is, whether it is English or engineering, psychology or agribusiness.
That’s the mission of UW–Platteville, and we know that our graduates agree that every day is a great day to be a Pioneer!
The Community Corner is a weekly column of opinion written by guest columnists UW–Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields; Platteville School District Superintendent Connie Valenza; Chamber Director Kathy Kopp; Main Street Program Director Jack Luedtke; Common Council President Mike Dalecki, Platteville Recreation Coordinator Jordan Burress, State Rep. Travis Tranel, Platteville City Manager Larry Bierke and Police Chief Doug McKinley.