Steve Jobs insisted it is in Apples DNA that technology alone is not enough—its technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing. What do business leaders seek in an employee? Not what you might think. In job markets saturated with graduates in computer science, law and management, intelligence is hardly in short supply. Nor, for that matter, is the ability to analyze, test, and make predictions based on data.
Fortunately for those more interested in analyzing a Shakespearean drama or the historical emergence of Islam, a staggering 93% of CEOs included in a recent American survey of corporate and nonprofit leaders* said the skills they prize most in new hires are a capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems. The skills, in other words, obtained through an undergraduate degree in the humanities.
At elite American colleges dedicated to the humanities, students learn to connect disparate dots, and the problem-solving skills necessary to make sense of an interconnected world. Most of all, they learn how to learn—the key, according to former Cellcom CEO Amos Shapira, to success in a fast-changing, dynamic economy, in which the confidence to tackle unfamiliar challenges is vital. I prefer a graduate in Bible studies over one in management and business strategy, he famously stated. What matters most is the ability to learn, [and a students] analytical capabilities and interpersonal skills.
As for all the other traits that go into being one of Israels most powerful businessmen? The practical knowledge that serves me as a CEO, he declared, any reasonably intelligent person can learn in two weeks.
An elite American tradition
Shapira would therefore be pleased to hear that this singular American educational tradition has now been planted on Israeli soil. Shalem College, a private, four-year college in Jerusalem for Israels brightest, most ambitious young minds, offers students a dual-major undergraduate degree in the humanities, which can serve as the basis for further study in most any field, and success in a wide range of influential professions.
The centerpiece of Shalems academic program is its unique Core Curriculum, required of all students. Comprising courses in Western philosophy and literature; Jewish thought; Islam and Christianity; art and music; history, economics, statistics and the natural sciences, nearly all Core courses are taught in small, discussion-based seminars of no more than 25 students, which allows for a vibrant give-and-take among participants. Moreover, students are encouraged to engage the seminal texts of each subject directly, and to debate and defend their positions.
This preference for flexibility and creativity of thought over the single-minded mastery of facts is, explains Shalem educational director Ido Hevroni, the essence of the Shalem experience. Our faculty view themselves first and foremost as mentors, and invite students to be partners in reading, thinking, and conversing about great works. Our goal is to instil in our students an appreciation for learning that will accompany them throughout their lives, and yield benefits in both the professional and personal realms.
Breadth and depth of knowledge
While the Cores pedagogical format hones students skills in communication and collaboration, and their assignments strengthen the ability to write effectively and persuasively, Shalems majors add depth to a broad base of knowledge. Currently, Shalem offers two majors: an interdisciplinary program in philosophy and Jewish thought, and Middle Eastern and Islamic studies (MEIS). The latter program has already gained renown for its requirement that students achieve fluency in Arabic, facilitated through regular one-on-one sessions with native Arabic speakers, intensive language labs, and immersion programs.
This requirement accords with another of Shalems emphases: connecting classroom learning with the public good. As Col. (ret.) Eran Lerman, former deputy for foreign policy and international affairs at Israels National Security Council and a lecturer in Shalems MEIS program, says, The students in Shalems MEIS major seek to use their knowledge of the field as a means of making a meaningful contribution to Israeli society, through a career in intelligence, diplomacy or policy, for example. The abilities theyll gain here in big-picture, strategic thinking, as well as their fluency in the languages of the region, ensure that theyll be positioned for success in the service of their country.
Elizabeth Coleman, the former president of the prestigious Bennington College, known for its humanities-based, student-centered education, once stated in a TED talk that her students often insist that deep thought matters when youre contemplating what to do about things that matter. For potential students interested in doing things that matter, whether in technology, business, public policy, education, or numerous other fields, Shalem invites you to think about a first degree in the humanities. Deeply.