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Published:March 11th, 2013 12:31 EST
Practical v. Classical Education: Which Do You Need to Get Hired?

Practical v. Classical Education: Which Do You Need to Get Hired?

By Jay Forte

I am reading Loving What Is by Byron Katie. She introduces a process to self-discover and find ways to be happier in life though inquiry " asking questions. In her book, to show these questions in action, she shares conversations with those who have been in her programs. This is meaningful because the conversations are frequently universal " problems in sense of self, in relationships, in beliefs, etc. She says that reading these is important because they say what we are all thinking or dealing with. Pretty practical stuff. Learning from others " what to do, what not to do.

This is how it can be with literature. We are in a world that is looking for school to be more and more practical. There are some active initiatives to delete history, reading, grammar and literature. Though I believe most schools and colleges do not spend enough time connecting materials to today`s world, we miss out on wisdom if we discontinued the classics. So where is their value and can they go head to head with practical education?

So back to Byron Katie`s comment. When we read her conversations, we see ourselves. We learn by reading " we don`t have to be part of the actual event to learn from it. Literature does the same. It shares stories of epic struggle, perseverance, overcoming obstacles, living life on life`s terms, connecting to our spirit, the meanness of humanity, the optimism of ideas " it is all there. Not sure it could get more practical than that. 

When we learn to both read and read literature, we take ourselves on a ride through life. We learn about new things, see human behavior " the good and the bad " and become more aware of our world. Bring the characters in an Emily Bronte novel out of the 1800s and their lives, struggles, loves and events are not too different from today`s. Their characters are us " we are them. Why must we go through betrayal to know that it is painful and a better life lesson may be to choose our life and love partners more carefully? Or, the lesson of greed and salvation in Scrooge by Charles Dickens. Should we realize after we have alienated our friends and families that it would have been wiser to have managed our fixation on wealth at the expense of all else? Life lessons. Workplace lessons. 

In a recent WSJ article, Doing A Texas Two-Step Around Education Reform, authors Charles Cook and Terrance Moore lament the changes in the Texas graduation standards. In an attempt to water down the graduation requirements, students would miss out on critical thinking and language skills that are the current bane of hiring managers in the workplace. Employees are underprepared in language, whole-world and higher-level thinking. Whereas employees in today`s service workplace are more face-to-face with customers, these lack of skills are impacting the quality of the service relationship and ultimately the success of the company. Cutting these not only short-change students of critical wisdom, but create a real world performance disadvantage. 

Critical communication and critical thinking are what enables today`s managers to connect with employees and customers. It enables employees to share ideas, challenge outdated thinking, negotiate, debate and discuss. In an intellectual economy, we are driven by thinking; thoughts become products and services. 

Critical to the process of thinking is communication " of sharing the thinking. As Cook and Moore share, We think that students who have been taught to write forcefully by studying Shakespeare and Tom Paine, who have learned to speak by studying the speeches of Cicero and Abraham Lincoln, who have learned to think through difficult problems by studying the Constitution through an analysis of the Federalist Papers, and who revel in the rigors of Latin grammar, will have no difficulty in reading the boss`s memo. 

So classical or practical education " which will get you hired? Practical education will. Which will keep you hired? " Classical. 

So the answer is we need them both. It is right that we constantly learn from the masters " whose timeless wisdom provides insight into today. It is right that we spend time in the workplace as part of our education because nothing helps learning like hands-on learning. But as our economy demands an expansive mindset, we look back to the classics to help us stay grounded while inventing. Take Plato for example. 

Plato`s Know Thyself is equally as important today as it was over two thousand years ago. Knowing ourselves reminds us that we are born unique " and that our unique abilities " that only we really know " are the source of our competitive advantage in today`s thinking workplace. Today, we don`t pay employees to do "a job " we pay them to think about the best, most efficient and most profitable response in each moment, then respond accordingly. Our jobs are thinking jobs and no two of us think exactly alike. So if we know ourselves, we`ll be able to define our unique talents, strengths and passions, then wisely choose jobs or events in life that fit these. 

Plato`s wisdom is not only still as meaningful today as it was two thousand years ago, but is actually at the core of why today`s best organizations outperform the average ones. Great organizations know the behaviors needed in each job and hire based on those behaviors " this is called fit." They require their job candidates know themselves " their talents, strengths and passions " in order to apply for jobs that fit these abilities. A practical application of the classics. The wisdom is still meaningful. Ignoring this would create a performance disadvantage or continue the difficulty of trying to get hired in a job that needs abilities different than yours. Know yourself. Still pretty wise. 

So as education reform looks for areas to cut, remember the other great wisdom of Plato "nothing too much." Manage the cuts to the classics " they are still our power. Blend the practical and classical in today`s education approach. Here is yet one more example of how the classics provide wisdom for the current day.