An interesting article by Andrew Delbanco on the endangerment of liberal arts in the college context. It really does seem that liberal arts at the college level is in very bad straits. In any case, just some random thoughts on the subject:No, really, go read it. This is one of those posts where quoting the entire thing is nearly irresistible.
(1) College is an extraordinarily inefficient way to teach workers what they need in order to work. The best way to teach workers what they need to do is to give them on-the-job training, or to make use of a workshop-and-licensing system. Sending someone to college so that they will be a more productive filer of papers is truly absurd; and right now the only thing that a college degree really signals to most businesses is that you can stick with something for a few years.
Likewise, you don't get a competitive and productive workforce by sending them to school; you get a competitive and productive workforce by making it worth the time and effort it takes to work competitively and productively, and by giving them the resources required to do so. We do, in fact, do this, in part by putting an immense amount of pressure on people to get things that most people can only get by being good workers; and school does, in fact, contribute directly to this by teaching people to sit at desks and do work, and the like, but this direct contribution is minor. Education mostly contributes indirectly, by turning out people who can do things and make things that make other people more competitive and productive.
Everyone should remember the Gilbert & Sullivan song about the modern major-general, which was making precisely this point.
(2) Our current system of higher education has all the features typically associated with an educational system on the verge of breakdown....[Continue Reading]
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