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Educational => Higher Education => Higher Education => Topic started by: md on July 15, 2011, 10:04:40 PM

Title: The case for an interdisciplinary curriculum: Philosophy + politics + economics
Post by: md on July 15, 2011, 10:04:40 PM
The case for an interdisciplinary curriculum: Philosophy + politics + economics
   Abdullah A. Dewan

 If you throw a stone at any projectile while standing in the middle of the campus of any one of American major universities during a typical busy class days and the stone hits an undergraduate student — the probability that the student is enrolled in some economics and philosophy classes will be nearly 0.95 or better – believe it not.

“Economics, once considered one of the more difficult subjects for undergraduates to grasp, is the top major at Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford and the Universities of Pennsylvania and Chicago; second at Brown, Yale and the University of California at Berkley; and third at Cornell and Dartmouth” (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 30, 1998).

In recent years, economics has widened in scopes and applications in many non-traditional issues such as global warming, energy policy, and national defense. It has recently invaded the boundaries of other disciplines and holding grounds by launching new fields such as public choice economics involving political issues; law and economics, household economics involving household use of time, as well as marriage, divorce, child rearing and so on.

In liberal arts, economics has evolved as an all-embracing applied field and thus emerged as an unrivaled grounding for careers in business, government, and the law, as well as for other highly demanding areas such as education, journalism, foreign service, politics, and financial consulting.

Major Law schools in the West believe economics provide one of the most apposite grounding for success in legal studies, because “economics way of thinking” is methodical, content-rich, succinct, and demanding. It’s the “economics way of thinking” that innovated new discipline, called “law and economics” — which applies economics rationales to almost all legal questions in class rooms and court rooms — as one of the leading fields in top law schools.

The mounting importance of economics in the law is also advanced by the enrollment of over 200 federal judges in special economics programs offered at the Center for Law and Economics, formerly at the University of Miami Law School, and now at Emory University in Atlanta.

One may wonder how “economics and philosophy” are entwined with mutual complementarity.

There’re both intellectual and utilitarian reasons to study philosophy. Studying philosophy makes a person’s life intellectually more thought-provoking and fulfilling. Philosophy students are challenged to analyse concepts with clarity and context and assess evidence and arguments critically and persuasively. The ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, once said “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

The utilitarian reason to study philosophy is what it does for you. Philosophy students unarguably are better prepared for jobs that demand penetrating reading, critical thinking, rational decision-making and cogent judgment.

The intellectual challenges and rigors of philosophy serve pre-medical students with a template as to what they’d have to grapple with as doctors. In the U.S. Philosophy majors are among the top performers on both the Law School Aptitude Test (LSAT) and Medical College Aptitude Test (MCAT) and, typically, 50-55% of philosophy majors applying to medical and law school are accepted.

Over 70 universities in the U.S. Canada, U.K and other European countries have been offering an interdisciplinary curriculum — packaging Philosophy, Politics and Economics — popularly known as PPE. The program is intended for those desiring a career in education, journalism, politics, civil service, Foreign Service and so on.

Balliol College, Oxford University was the first to offer degrees in PPE. The program has since produced a significant number of notable graduates such as David Cameron, the current PM of U.K. According to the BBC, PPE dominates public life in the UK.

The program was patterned as substitute to Classics (known as Greats) driven by the notion that courses in Philosophy and Ancient History was outmoded to those joining civil service. Professors Dario Castiglione and Iain Hampsher-Monk (Exeter University, U.K) have described the program “as being fundamental to the development of political thought in the UK” – establishing a nexus between politics and philosophy.

The evolution of the program is entrenched in the belief that to comprehend the dynamics of social phenomenon one must scrutinize them from the perspectives of several complementary academic areas — fostering a multidisciplinary analytical framework. In this context, the study of Philosophy stood alone to equip students both with the ability to reason rigorously and logically, and facilitate ethical reflection.

Courses in politics is incorporated to the program to acquaint students with the “authoritative structures that govern society” and help solve governing complexities through collective decision making. Finally, since political decisions and governing parameters are inseparable from all-pervading economic influences—the indispensability of integration of economics into the interdisciplinary program became preordained.

During my university days no such provision for interdisciplinary curricula existed. After my B.Sc (Hons) exam result was announced, I met with the then Dhaka University Economics Department Head Professor MN Huda about doing M.A. in economics. Looking at my performance in Physics he encouraged to become a Physicist while explaining that “there’s no such provision in the system” to let me do Master’s in Economics without having Economics in my undergraduate studies. My friend – an economics student Ghulam Rahman (current ACC Chairman), who accompanied me to the economics department — and I returned with obvious disappointments.

Today, I firmly believe that my formal education in Physics, Engineering — and belatedly Economics, has equipped me with a much wider perspectives about many real life issues that confront us on a daily basis. However, if I could rewind the age-clock and redo my university education Déjà vu, I would pursue the same academic route except that in the process I’d add some courses in philosophy and politics in my curriculum.

To be a successful journalist and an influential columnist there cannot be a stronger interdisciplinary program than PPE. The same arguments are compelling for a career in Law, Politics, Civil Service, and Foreign Service.

In the U.S. Congress, over 90% of the lawmakers are former attorneys. I may assertively claim that at least 95% of them in their undergrad studies have majored and minored in two of the four areas that include Economics, Philosophy, Politics, and History with some courses in the other two as electives. Note that as Economics major students are required to acquire basic skill in mathematics, statistics, and computer applications.

As my department’s undergrad Program Director, I explain to students why majoring in economics and minoring in Philosophy with complementary courses in political Science and History offer the best option to pursue any one of the career trajectories at the graduate school underscored above. However, I doubt if I would have thought of writing this piece had the PPE program not cropped up in a brief conversation with my friend Abdul Shawkat last week.

Universities in Bangladesh may harvest these suggestions to design and develop a PPE program and cultivate a balanced education for the students desiring to triumph academic and professional goals with wider perspectives.

The writer, formerly a BAEC Physicist and Nuclear Engineer, is a Professor of Economics at Eastern Michigan University, USA.

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