iHum and the iPhone

![IHUM gets the credit for this?](http://www.ipodtouchfans.com/forums/imgcache/27745.png)
In a [recent article in *Inside Higher Ed*](http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2009/08/13/edelstein), Dan Edelstein of Stanford University draws on his experience of teaching [IHUM](http://www.stanford.edu/dept/undergrad/ihum/) (Stanford’s Introduction to the Humanities – a required course for freshmen) to demonstrate the superiority of the American higher education system to those of its rivals (namely in Europe and Asia). He argues that a liberal arts education is necessary for creative and innovative thinking, which results in the invention of cool things like the iPhone. Edelstein references an interaction he had with a couple of Chinese students in his class last year to demonstrate his point:
> Speaking with some Chinese students one day before class, they explained to me how they found these writing exercises utterly baffling. “We are supposed to come up with an original thesis?,” they asked. “How are we meant to do that?” Never before had they been encouraged to provide their own interpretation of a text or event.

Edelstein then further concludes that the Chinese students’ restricted and utterly uncreative manner of thinking was analogous to studies in the hard sciences and mathematics. He even goes so far as to argue that IHUM (yes, IHUM) trains you to think better than a class in the sciences:

It becomes clear that humanities courses such as IHUM offer far more opportunities for innovative thinking than most science classes.

Sounds like a bit of a stretch to me, and I’m a liberal arts major! There is certainly immense value to a liberal arts education – it trains you to write, research, analyze, argue, critique. But does it help you invent things like the iPhone? Despite Edelstein’s wonderfully cute example about Steve Jobs (how a course in Asian calligraphy transformed his vision of fonts and text), I’d say that it does not.

With the value of a liberal arts education constantly being questioned, it is undoubtedly in need of defending, but a sensible defense would be preferable.

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