Friday, August 23, 2013

The End Product

This is the last of a 5 day reverie on an ideal college curriculum.

So, aside from having a first class education in basic science as well as an in-depth acquaintance with the best works of the Western tradition, how else would a graduate of such a program differ from typical college graduates? From yesterday's post, it should be plain that this would not be a person to trifle with, a person inured to hardship and possessing extremely strong self-discipline. They can read Ancient Greek and French, paint a portrait, and ride a horse. They have extraordinary mental and physical endurance. They have mastered both elements of the liberal arts and sciences.

That phrase usually, and wrongly, gets shortened to the liberal arts. But what "liberal arts" (and sciences) actually refers to is the education appropriate for a liber (Latin: "free man"). The idea is that free citizens should be deeply educated in both the arts and the sciences. The common view that the only subjects worth funding are from the so-called STEM disciplines, or that STEM disciplines are somehow superior to non-STEM disciplines is a relatively recent misapprehension. The STEM v. non-STEM dichotomy isn't actually about "arts" versus "sciences" (this should be apparent since only the STEM "S" represents science; the rest are Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). It is rather about Education versus Training. Completing an engineering program will not make you an educated person; it will make you a trained engineer.

The book An Education for our Time by former VMI Superintendent Josiah Bunting is a far, far better exercise in imaging a new type of college than I have done these past few days. I strongly recommend it.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I came across your blog because I, too, am very slowly reading through the St. John's College reading list. After reading your posts on the ideal college, I was about to recommend An Education for Our Time; although it is by no means a description of contemporary higher education, it provides an interesting model for both an ideal college and for self-education.


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