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Students with Chests

May 5, 2015



An article in Monday’s Australian Financial Review claims that businesses prize employees with humanities degrees.  Why?  Because those employees tend to analyze, think, problem-solve and communicate well.  The article also notes that liberal arts graduates often rise to leadership positions:



… arts graduates are greatly overrepresented in the senior ranks of corporate Australia.  Take for example Westpac, where Brian Hartzer, a history graduate has recently replaced Gail Kelly, who studied classics, as CEO. It is the all-important 'soft skills' that are essential for effective senior leadership – particularly those around effective communication and empathy. These are core attributes of an arts degree.




Empathy.  Isn't that interesting?  Good leadership depends on the ability not only to think critically but also to communicate and relate well to other people and contexts.  That's why, even though many graduates possess head knowledge and technical skills, companies seem to want employees with something more…something beyond mere expertise in data…something that resides or emanates from a different place in a person. 
C S Lewis referred to it as “the chest.” 
By chest Lewis meant that “spirited” aspect of human nature, symbolically located between the head and the stomach, which directs a person’s desires, affections and sentiments.  A student is not just a cranium that thinks, nor merely a stomach that craves, but a full-orbed person with a chest that loves.  The chest is that capacity that moves us neither by a cold calculation of reason nor by blind obedience to appetites; rather, the chest guides reason in directing our desires toward the true, good and beautiful.  According to Lewis, “The head rules the belly through the chest…"



A key concern in tertiary education today is the degree to which universities are committed to producing students with chests.  Too many institutions have lost the backbone to teach about an objective order with which students can be “in tune” both intellectually (the head) and morally/aesthetically (the chest).  Modern universities seem to focus almost exclusively on regulating what students know rather than also shaping what they love. If we want dynamic, creative, personal leaders like Gail Kelly, we need to invest in the kinds of education that helped produce her.


Yet, as Lewis recognised,

we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible … In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function.  We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise.  ...  We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

Australia needs to recover a vision of higher education that develops the full human person, including the head and chest.




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