7.26.2004

We Have a Comment!

Itt looks like my previous post on academic specialization has generated a comment. Reader P.F. writes:
Specialization is inevitable as our knowledge branches out to every known and unknown corners of this world, physical and theoretical. There is indeed, more and more to learn, and more basic information in every subject to swallow. The question is, at what point should we start specialize and does specialization put us on an irrevocable path that is devoid of real world attachment and application?

I, on the other hand, have thought that your undergraduate education provides what you probably will never experience once you step into the work force. Classes in esoterics, ancient history, classic theories and advanced science are doors that will likely never be opened again for you after college. Certainly, most of them have no practical value in the real world. They don't necessarily make you a better citizen. The society as a whole teaches you how to be a good citizen, not an institution. In college, you still have time off school to get a little taste of the the world outside of the academia through your part-time jobs, internships, traveling, etc. In school, it depends on the individuals to seek out problems to solve and challenges to take on academically and socially. Out in the real world, problems thrusted upon you no matter how ready you are. So it is a personal choice as to how much exposure of the real world you want to have before entering the jungle; college neither limits or, in your words, broadens such opportunity. The main aim of college is to educate us in academics. After all, where else can you go for an education like that?
A few points:

The point is not to end specialization. Specialization is inevitable at this point in history, barring some kind of massive civilization meltdown. The point isn't that we should halt the progress of knowledge from probing deeper into specific areas of inquiry, or that we should prevent the formation of a class of specialists who get to know limited areas of knowledge very well; both of these are probably inevitable given the limitations of the human intellect and the current stage of sophistication in many fields.

And there's nothing inherently obscure or inapplicable about specialization. In the sciences at least, specialization simply reflects the wide scope of things capable of being explained by research.

About the "college experience," I don't at all agree with the view that college is the last time you have to study impractical, intellectual things, that once you graduate some door to learning is closed behind you. If you have a job that doesn't stimulate you in this respect then go to a library after work. There are more scholarly works available to you in your local library network than you could possibly care to finish. You're not going to be getting a class in them, but are books in classics, ancient history or history of science so difficult that you'll require a class to help you understand them? To motivate you?

Given that the world is becoming a more complicated place with "problems being thrust upon you no matter how ready you are," the goal of any college concerned with the future well-being of its students should be to cultivate the skill of applying known knowledge to new problems. The best way to do this is to teach how the methods of the past and today are being used to solve today's problems, not studying some narrow academic field devoid of context.

1 comment:

P.F. said...

I still think college experience is unique. At this age, in this well-developed country, and being the fortunate people that we are, sources of knowledge are readily available at our finger tips and within the reach of our grasps (or our commuting distance). But how many people, if they don't feel intellectually stimulated, will go to local library and spend hours exploring arcane subjects (starting from introductory books that everyone can read!) after work? Yes, there will be a few, but the majority of them have their other priorities pile on top of out-of-work intellectual pursuit.

Compared that this scenario, for most of us, being a student in college is the most carefree time where you are not burdened with bills to pay, food to cook, family to take care of, utility bills to pay and a life to earn, not to mention the duty or privilege of a student is to learn.

College cannot teach you everything about life. A life with a college experience may be fuller and richer.

(this post better not have any typo)