I am going to preface all below with the disclaimer that I don’t consider myself, in the contemporary sense anyway, an expert on this subject. I do have a 1990’s education degree and I have done a lot of study on the subject on my own. I was fortunate on my last trip through a university that I had a couple of professors that introduced me to some rather radical writing on the subject that I doubt that I would have found on my own.
In obtaining this last degree, I had to go through the practice teaching part of the curriculum. That experience was one of the main reasons that I did not intensely pursue a job teaching in the public schools. I had done some short term teaching previously without the certification. I taught in a one room school back in the 60’s, and did 2 years part time in a vo-tech teaching electronics to high school age kids. When I had my own business, I emphasized learning and taught in my own way customers that did business with me. So, with that background out of the way, let’s examine what I think I have observed and learned.
It was emphasized to me during my last trip through the university system that all learning was skill oriented. Within a very general and broad perspective, that is true I think. However, it was never defined just what skills the educational system was responsible for. I was handed the broad and rather obtuse explanation of skills in critical thinking that I did not personally observe taking place, skills in numbers that I did not observe taking place, and skills in language that I also did not notice taking place. Rather, the skills I saw were predominately located in rote memorization of pre programmed curricula with little or absolutely no critical thinking, no critical reading and little thinking skills at all. Within the university system, I saw no integration in the various subjects, but rather stand alone discreet areas of study.
Now what this means within higher education is that you have specialized knowledge of a certain area with no association of how it interacts with other areas. Thus, the physicists doesn’t understand much if anything about biology or classical literature, and this seems to be true across the board in every area of study. There are of course, individuals which do integrate their specialization with other areas, but my observation is that they are far and few between.
So, this leads me to an examination of what is ‘education’ all about, which leads me to examining the history of what we call ‘education’.
When I started to examine the history of education it appeared to me that there was a division between what is commonly called ‘classical education’ and ‘modern education’. My impression was that ‘classical education’ consisted of what we generally call a ‘liberal arts’ curriculum similar to the classical education of the ancient Greeks which is very broad and integrates many areas of specialized study and how they interrelate. This is not very popular today because it doesn’t result in specialized high paying jobs upon graduation. Thusly, higher education has become a job training expenditure of time and money. It may be hard for people to understand this, but it was not always like this.
I know that when I started my college work in 1959 I was more interested in learning a broad range of subjects than in specializing in a particular area, my hunger for a broad range of subjects was nearly insatiable. Most of my friends in college at that time felt the same way. What I hear today is a denial of usefulness of a generalized curiosity of a broad range of subject, rather an attitude of “I don’t need to know that for the job I want and don’t bother me with this stuff”. I found the same attitude in the public schools system, just at a lower level. Why do I need to know algebra, or history, or classical literature or how to write or …. whatever. I would submit that the result of this kind of educational endeavor becomes shallow to the point of spending a ridiculous amount of time developing curricula that only leads to some kind of job training, in other words, an academic vo-tech.
I would also submit that this has lead to some very undesirable social consequences. People that are good at algebra and trigonometry and can’t find their city on a map, or have no idea what the founding father of our constitution had in mind and what information they drew on, or the history and definitions of a variety of governing systems, and the critical evaluations of events throughout modern times, much less ancient times. Continue Reading…