One of the iconic features of Harvard’s education is the liberal arts system. The underlying idea is to expose students to a wide variety of types of thinking. In contrast to this age-old academic idea is “innovation,” which seems to be the new buzzword for college campuses and young people. Although these two ideas sit at opposite ends of the timeline, they are inherently and necessarily intertwined.
Many times when we think of innovation in a particular field, we recall the fundamental advancements that drove the whole field forward. There are many examples of this phenomenon: the silicon-based transistor revolutionized the whole computer industry, the impressionist technique of art opened a new way to experience paintings. However, if we look at the truly great innovations of humankind, such as the wheel, writing, and democracy, these innovations have a different flavor. They don’t fit into any existing category―they force a whole new one to be defined.
In today’s world, one of the ways this can be achieved is by examining the intersection of otherwise unrelated fields. The liberal arts lend themselves to this exact approach, as students are exposed to many different subject areas that they can then mix together. Liberal arts are like a palette of primary colors, from which an infinite number of new colors can be mixed.
A classic story of this is Mark E. Zuckerberg and his creation of Facebook. During his time at Harvard, Zuckerberg, a former member of the Class of 2006, took classes in both Computer Science and Psychology. He noticed the concept of a “social network” in his psychology class and combined it with the idea of a “graph” in computer science. And so was born of one of the great tech companies of our generation.
This concept applies to ideas both big and small. Last year, the Harvard Graduate School of Education Innovation and Ventures in Education…