Interdisciplinearity LO22682

Steve Eskow (
Wed, 15 Sep 1999 23:56:32 -0600

Replying to LO22663 --

John Gunkler writes:
>Steve, while I understand your concern, I wonder if you aren't indulging
>in a bit of either/or thinking about interdisciplinearity. That is, are
>you of the mind that to teach in an interdisciplinary way means to never
>teach specialization in anything? Is that what others in this dialogue
>have said?

I hope , John, I'm not either/or'ing. And I hope that you don't think that
my support of specialization means that I'm not in favor of courses (for
example)that look at Shakespeare from a Freudian perspective: I was
fascinated in my course on Hamlet to learn that Hamlet, like Oedipus, may
have had a thing for his mother.

>I certainly don't believe that. And I certainly do believe in
>interdisciplinearity. I've been amused to note, recently, that
>businesses are now hiring liberal arts students at high initial salaries
>for technical/ computer jobs.>>

John, is your working assumption here that the "liberal arts" are by
definition "interdisciplineary"? They aren't, in my experience. The
Freshman Comp teacher does not usually know what the chem prof or the
political science prof is teaching, much less integrate with the.

In many--most?-- colleges the arts and sciences--notice the two
categories--are as segregated structurally and pedagogically as all the
other disciplines, and more than the so-called "professional" disciplines:
the nursing faculty often tries to integrate their subjects.

>Their reasoning (according to those quoted in the news): We don't know
>where the field is going in the next five years (or even in the next few
>months!) What we need is people educated broadly enough to be able to
>adapt to new ways. What we need is people who have learned how to think.

Unfortunately, John, there is less evidence than you suggest to support
the widely held belief that the "liberal arts" as they are usually taught
teach one to "think," or even that "thinking" is inherent in certain
subjects. Does Psychology 101 teach the student to think? History of
Western Civ? Eng 101?

It may be, however, that the English major--one who has specialized--has
learned how to dig into complex issues. And has learned how to read and
write, skills that are of increasing value in the workplaces of today.

You are raising an important issue, I think, which is not the issue of
"interdisciplinearity," the issue of "general" versus "vocational" or
"technical" education.

The point there, as you suggest, is that the endless changes in the
workplace generated by the almost elimination of the delay time between
the discovery of new products and services and their arrival in the
marketplace makes technical knowledge quickly obsolete.

What to do about that educationally seems to me to be a somewhat different
issue from that of "interdisciplinearity."

Steve Eskow


Steve Eskow <>

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