Sunday, August 6, 2017

What should they learn?

My friend and I are scheduled to discuss an old question in education: is it better to try and give an education that tries to cover everything or better to train specifically for a particular occupation or specialty? Both approaches have well-known downsides.

It is well-known that if you start studying on the very day you are born, you won't have covered everything by the day you die.  So, of course, the liberal arts/humanities education can only "hit the highlights."  So, whether your physics instruction was limited to high school or you have a full physics major from college, you still don't know all that much about physics.  Get a PhD in physics and you will know more but you will also be much more aware of what you still don't know.

You can go the other way and get training for a very specific job and forget about broad knowledge.  That can and does work quite well, but it can also leave you confused and fearful, with big gaps in your understanding of the world and both its possibilities and its dangers. You may also find that the very specific job you have trained for has become obsolete and is no longer needed. The way things are going these days, you will almost certainly find that new learning and skills must be mastered, no matter what sort of work you do.

Most of the discussions about broad education vs. specific are about young people, say 20 years old or less.  However, as society and its ideas change, and as longevity is achieved by more people, education and exploration of ideas and subjects attracts more people of older ages. I often think that romantic or blow-'em up movies can become repetitious and real subjects gain attraction.

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