My response to Jacques Steinberg’s column

In “Plan B,” Jacques Steinberg writes

“Such skills [communication and appropriate work behavior] are ranked among the most desired — even ahead of educational attainment — in many surveys of employers. In one 2008 survey of more than 2,000 businesses in Washington State, employers said entry-level workers appeared to be most deficient in being able to “solve problems and make decisions,” “resolve conflict and negotiate,” “cooperate with others” and “listen actively.”

Yet despite the need, vocational programs, which might teach such skills, have been one casualty in the push for national education standards, which has been focused on preparing students for college.”

While I agree with much of what Steinberg writes, I find it somewhat odd that he assigns “solve problems and make decisions,” “resolve conflict and negotiate,” “cooperate with others” and “listen actively” to vocational programs.

I am a professor of English at a liberal arts university, and I have at times bemoaned the overspecialization of majors and programs, which blurs the line between education and training. The very things that Steinberg thinks students need more “training” in are precisely the qualities that, say, an English major develops in four years of literary studies (a vocationally “useless” pursuit).

So, I guess the next time I’m asked the proverbial question, “what can you do with an English major?” I will answer, “you can solve problems, deal with complex moral decisions, negotiate, think critically, communicate well in speech and writing, cooperate with other, and listen actively.” All things that, surprise, you need in the world of work.

Please, please, let’s not solve this by creating majors in Active Listening.

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