Notes by Endika Aboitiz: “In Defense of A Liberal Education” by Fareed Zakaria

*These are notes. They are not a perfect summary. If you want more, then read the book.

The new American dream – drop out of college, start a tech company, and take it public.

Students are encouraged to stop dreaming and thinking practically of the skills they need in the workplace.

Those who see to re-orient American education into something more focused and technical – keep in mind you are abandoning the historical distinctive American approach to higher education.

For most of human history, education was job training – hunters to hunt, farmers to farm. That changed 2,500 years ago in ancient Greece.

Prior to the change, the Greeks focused on arête – excellence or virtue. Spartan young boys considered weak at birth were abandoned to die. In 5 B.C. some Greek states began to experiment with a new form of government – democracy.

Liberal – original Latin sense – or pertaining to free men.

“Learning will spoil the best nigger in the world. If he learns to read the Bible, it will forever unfit him to be a slave.” – Frederick Douglas

Cicero was first on record to use the term artes liberals. Why did Europeans move beyond monasteries that kept tradition of learning and inquiry alive?

One influence – Islam – most advanced civilizations – Middle Ages. Dozens of madrasas – history, politics, science, music, etc., all taught. Islamic leaning produced innovations. Algebra – from “al jabr” – meaning the reunion of broken parts Algoritmi.

End of Middle Ages, European stagnation ending. Italy – long coastline – commerce, trade, capitalism – beginning to stir. Nations formed. Universitas, scholars hired, tests given. 1088 first university – Bologna. 1500 – Europe, 20 universities.

Universa universis ptavina libertas Paduana: freedom is universal for everyone.

Yale–liberal education to lay the foundation of all professions.

Two great points gained in intellectual culture:
• Discipline
• Furniture of the mind – expanding its powers and storing in it knowledge

Fix the attention.
Direct the train of thought Analyze a subject with accurate discrimination.
Balance the evidence.
Awake, elevate, and control the imagination.
Arranging with skill, the treasures which memory gathers.
Rousing and guiding the powers of genius.

Leave undergrads to explore freely their interests more broadly.
Grad to embrace the research function.
Liberal education should allow you to choose your own course, excite your imagination, and thus, realize your distinctive self.

Common core benefits:
• All able to share in an intellectual experience
• All can discuss it together
• Join it its delights
• Commiserate over its weaknesses
• A bonding opportunity

How to read critically, analyze data, formulate ideas. Most of all, to enjoy the intellectual adventure enough to be able to do them easily and often.


A good education system must confront the realities of the world we live in and educate in a way that addresses them, rather than pretend that these challenges don’t exist.

Reading books remains one of the most important paths to real knowledge.


A good education system must confront the realities of the world we live in and educate in a way that addresses them, rather than pretend that these challenges don’t exist.

The central virtue of a liberal education is that it teaches you how to write, and writing makes you think. Being forced to write clearly means, first, you have to think clearly. What comes first, language or thought? Do we think abstractly and then put those ideas into words, or do we think in words that then create the scaffolding of thought? Second, a liberal education teaches you how to speak. At the deepest level, articulate communication helps you speak your mind. This does not mean spouting anything and everything you’re thinking at any given moment. It means learning to understand your own mind, to filter out underdeveloped ideas, and then to express to the outside world your thoughts, arranged in some logical order. In order to be successful in life, you often have to gain your peers’ attention and convince them of your cause, sometimes in a five-minute elevator pitch. No matter how strong your idea, you have to be able to convince others to get behind it. Thirdly, a liberal education teaches you how to learn, which is a pleasure and a great adventure of exploration.

The reform to liberal education is not happening in the US but in Singapore.

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Howard Gardner’s Eight Kinds of Intelligence:
• Linguistic
• Logical mathematical
• Spatial
• Musical
• Bodily-kinesthic
• Naturalistic
• Intrapersonal
• Interpersonal

One should go to infant school in France, preschool in Italy, primary school in japan, secondary school in Germany and college or university in the US.

Engineering is not better than art history. Society needs both, often in combination. Steve Jobs explains that technology is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.

Job market is divided in three:
1. Bottom – service sector jobs – requires hands-on interaction in unpredictable environments. Driving a bus, cooking food, caring for children or the elderly. Impossible to outsource to technology.
2. Middle – white collar and routine – in insurance, banking, and law – better done by machines
3. At the top, jobs all want – Americans wellprepared for – they require creativity, problem solving, decision making, persuasive argument and management skills.

And then there is the most influential industry in the US – entertainment – that requires some background or expertise in one of the several liberal arts.

Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore Minister of Education about the US and Singapore:
“We both have meritocracies. Yours is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy. There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well – like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority. These are areas where Singapore must learn from America.”

EMA: I ask: are we, ACO, becoming more like Singapore and less like America? Or do we need to move a little bit to the right-of-center from the right?

The book “Start-up Nation” is about the US – this country is a lot better at teaching self-esteem than it is at teaching math.

The US has a poorly-trained workforce in general, which is a disadvantage. But it makes up for it in several ways – it has an extremely dynamic and flexible economy, strong rule of law, a good regulatory structure, extraordinary research universities, rich venture capital firms, and a vibrant entrepreneurial culture. All these ingredients more than make up for middling test scores.

Japan, on the other hand, has a superbly trained general population. But it would score poorly on many broader economic and cultural indicators, especially with regards to entrepreneurship and the hierarchy of society. GOOD TEST SCORES ARE NOT ENOUGH TO CREATE THE NEXT GOOGLE.

America also benefits by being the world’s magnet for the very best and brightest. America has many Bill Gateses and Warren Buffets, Googles and Facebooks to bring up its averages.

Franklin and Jefferson shared the view that education was a way to ensure the new republic would be a place of merit, where birth, bloodlines, and hereditary privilege would not count for much…

EMA: That is why family management has to be managed through merit…not because you are an owner do you get to manage. That is, if you want the business to remain evergreen.

Natural aristocracy: poor and rich had to have equal access to education…so the state had to pay for education, primary and later.