Professor Sam “Selil” Liles has two posts, thoughtful essays to be more precise, to which I must give my earnest recommendation to read in full. Here they are with some short excerpts and then brief comments by me:
“The dark ages: Modern anti-intellectualism and failure of the thinking man”
….Where is the modern age renaissance man? A little over 100 years ago there were two degrees in the undergraduate curriculum. The Bachelor of Science, and the Bachelor of Arts were regarded as the pinnacle of education. Then specialization began a long swing into the collective consciousness of academia. The business world looked to academia to solve the middling problems of commerce. A government swath of intervention cut through the academic ranks of research. All of this resulted in further specialization. In the short term likely it resulted in gains in the intellectual output of a generation of scientists.
So, from a system where knowledge was gathered from many sources and a pyramid of knowledge and facts represented the intellectual catalog of an individual we have now the reverse. Broad based programs that widened in scope to a point where a person of the highest rank could discuss a variety of topics is no longer. Specialization has resulted in a trend to specious specialization where the pinnacle academic achievement is hyper-specialization. This has driven a coterie of programs into inter-disciplinary prima-facie collaborations but we know that the simple human interactions degrade the efforts.
This is the downside of analytical-reductionism, the powerful tool with which (among others) man has managed to shatter and reorganize a once unknowable reality into discernable, quantifiable, comprehensible parts. But with all tools there are limitations in terms of efficiencies as well as costs. Microscopes and telescopes are powerful augmentations to human vision but you wouldn’t look through either one while driving your car.
“….Perhaps the issue is thinking strategies. The fact remains that the common scientist is woefully deficient in thinking and intellectual strategies. Within their discipline they may be exposed to specifics that they may need but I rather doubt most PhD candidates for chemistry are being exposed to Dewey or Kant at the doctoral course work level. Specialization has eroded the human aspects of educations. The Renaissance man is dead and the University killed him. I have seen the response of several science faculty at the senior level who have realized this fact about themselves. They may be an international expert and have a great reputation but upon reaching full professor they reach out and start taking liberal arts and humanities courses. I have met many junior faculty and professionals who have a master’s degree in a liberal art and another masters degree in a science or engineering discipline. These are the hope of Lazarus rising and the rebirth of the Renaissance man. Yet in academia they are pushed aside as not having focus or depth.”
Read the rest here. Here is Selil’s next post which contains a number of visual slides that you should check out because they crystallize some of the points of the argument:
“Education paradigm: How you get there may not be where you are going”
“….The education paradigm is also somewhat limited. The pinnacle of the education paradigm is theory. The creating of new knowledge through the process of research as a doctoral student as evidenced by the dissertation is end of academic achievement. The missing point that the University often struggles with is the application of that highly specialized theoretical knowledge. Industry rarely has need of that kind of knowledge until there is a perceived need. This is where much of the “what use is a PhD” argument comes from. Yet it is of national and strategic importance to create and innovate not simply make small movements forward through incremental improvement. Creativity is energy fed by the fuel of intellectual discourse and domain knowledge. The broader the domain knowledge of an individual the more likely that they can draw upon new and more effective tools to solve problems.
For the most effective educated work force that serves the needs of all stake holders including the student a new paradigm for education is needed. The paradigm should build upon the entirety of the general education that a student receives in high school. Because the volume of knowledge is so vast it should approach the application side of the equation first thereby producing a capable work force entrant at the community college level. The bachelor degree level should have some theory and each discipline may need more or less depending on their field. The bachelor degree though should create a journeyman practitioner or engineer capable managing and inclemently advancing the discipline. The spilt between theory and application for a masters degree should equate to near equality. The master degree suggests that a student has relative mastery of a topic or discipline. At this point the student should have a breadth of knowledge that is inclusive of the discipline. At the point the doctoral degree is awarded application has been overtaken by theory. This is not the end as there is even more theory to be worked with but the scope broadens.”
This excerpt was from the second half of the post which I selected to show what Sam is driving toward, shifting the paradigm of education toward synthesis. In my view, a useful remediation of the current system’s deficiencies and a way to teach people to build their own “dialectical engines”, to use John Boyd’s phrase, for the generation of insights. Not in my view a full replacement of analytical-reductionism ( would you “replace” your left hand with your right or would you want to use both of them?) but a powerful complement and imaginative driver toward “vitality and growth”.