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Universal University? October 18, 2012

Posted by Jason in Management, Writing.
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What is modern education?

As we experience rapid advances in science and technology, there is increasing social pressure to produce graduates ready for the modern workforce.  Especially in the U.S., a university education has become what the high school diploma was just 20 years ago.  Despite skyrocketing tuition costs, politicians tout university as one way to reverse everything from our lack of competitiveness to the offshoring of technology jobs.

And they are right — to a point.

This article suggests that our emphasis on technical and vocational education has unintended consequences.  Namely, the decline in liberal arts degrees is hollowing out our former ability to have educated debates around facts rather than beliefs.

This is an interesting thought, but this is only part of the problem.  As I’ve written before, there is more to running a technical business than mere technical skills.  And, just as we would like to have politicians that can speak about and understand science, we also expect scientists and other technical professionals to have broader educations as well.  This is, of course, why we have bare minimum liberal arts requirements for various technical degrees (whether this is sufficient…well, that’s another story).

To be sure, universities have been around much longer than our modern concepts of education, technology, and even employment.  Just because we have developed an entire economy out of courses that just happen to have the same description as what has historically been called a “university” doesn’t mean it’s the same animal.  Indeed, there is a place for liberal arts, but the modern university may simply not be the place for them.  Despite sharing the name, what we now call a university isn’t the same as it was.

However, there is no doubt that the value of liberal arts has remained steady over the decades, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.  Philosophy, language, political and social science, art, music – these will always be fundamental expressions of human thought.  To believe they have no place in modern life – whether taught at a university or some other institution – is to ignore the centuries of progress that brought us to where we are now.

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