Interdisciplinearity LO22729 -Definitions

Steve Eskow (
Wed, 22 Sep 1999 16:06:15 -0600

Replying to LO22695 --


I think I have to return the favor and unpack you.

And perhaps challenge some of your foundational assumptions.

It has become an article of faith among many here, and everywhere, and
you, Tom, that "our education system has failed."

And that as a result of that "failure" industry, unable to find the hands
and brains and hearts it needs must undo this failure, and do the work
that the schools and colleges have failed to do, etc., etc, etc.

Now this is a litany that I have heard all my long professional life:
always unchanging, exactly the same.

And, of course, it is a world wide complaint: every educational system in
every country of the world has failed, according to those who have a
recipe for turning the failure into success. (The recipes, too, are
unchanging, although the menu rotates: as you know, "interdisciplinearity"
is in one year, out the next.)

And I and others have traced the complaint back to Aristotle.

Now, somehow this nation and the world limp along despite the failure of
the educational enterprise, and its reluctance to embrace
interdisciplinearity, or performance standards, or liberal arts for
engineers, or systems thinking, or refusing to turn the faculty into a
learning organization.

Somehow, despite the failure of the education system, radio and radar and
television and the computer and the Internet and The World Wide Web and
the LO get invented and refined.

Somehow despite the failure of the education system what the Wright Bros
and Henry Ford and Thomas Edison start become giant airplanes and powerful
automobiles, and the nation and the world, more or less rapidly, becomes

And, somehow, despite the failure, the computer gets programmed. And DARPA
become the Internet and The World Wide Web.

And the world gets spanned by telephone lines and satellites, and wired
together, and for good or ill the world economy become a global economy.

And the thought occurs: maybe the litany of failure is just plain wrong.

And maybe the solutions proposed, grounded as they are on a misreading of
the evidence, are wrong too.

Perhaps what has happened is better understood as a price we are paying
for success.

The profusion of technological wonders we are are creating endlessly are
changing our world so rapidly that our institutions can not adjust to
these changes quickly enough: our institutions of government, of human
service, or culture, art, religion; and, yes, of education too.

Much of what is proposed seems like easy solutions to hard problems.

Add a dollop of humanities to the training of the engineer and we will
create humanist engineers.


Get the physicist to take some work in economics and sociology and our
physicists will do better research, and not write silly little articles to
get promoted, etc., etc, etc.

Really, Tom?

Let me also contest this easy broadside of yours, Tom:

>Thus, I understand your concern about students wanting to acquire labels
>such as doctor lawyer, nurse- but decry the education system which can
>not build sufficient cofidence in its students that they can understand
>the problems which these areas confront and that graduates have, in their
>armamentarium the tools to solve these problems by virtue of their
>education and not the labels they have acquired.

I don't understand all of that, but the suggestion that the urge to
acquire and identify with a profession is merely a concern with packaging,
with labeling, seems to me a profound error.

Judges wear robes, police wear uniforms, for reasons that are far deeper,
and far more worthy of respect, than your remarks allow.

I, for one, Tom, want a dentist whose work on my tooth is the result of
years of training and specialization. I, for one, would rather he or she
take more courses in dentistry, and forego the broadening effects that
some feel are inherent in the "liberal arts". (As you recall, Tom, Dewey
exposed the fallacy of thinking that some disciplines ere inherently
liberating: they are not. Reading Silas Marner and Macbeth have been
torture for generation of students, and not at all liberating. Give me a
dentist who squarely a dentist and I will forego his well-roundedness,
even if a course in Philsophy would indeed round him out.)

So, Tom, since we don't agree on the rpblem it's going to be hard for us
to agree on a solution.

Particularly one that's had as much trouble demonstrating its worth as



Steve Eskow <>

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