Interdisciplinearity LO22732

John Gunkler (
Fri, 24 Sep 1999 10:20:20 -0500

Replying to LO22682 --

Steve Eskow asks:

>John, is your working assumption here that the "liberal arts" are by
>definition "interdisciplinary"?

No, Steve, I recognize that I was being sloppy. I meant to refer to what
are often called "liberal arts schools" and graduates of those schools --
schools such as Reed College -- not to liberal arts as a curriculum nor,
especially not, to any particular discipline that falls within such a
curriculum. I agree with you that the "liberal arts" (taken as a
collection of single disciplines) are little more interdisciplinary than
any other disciplines.

However, as I experienced it, in "liberal arts schools" the emphasis is
not simply on including the traditional liberal arts subjects
(disciplines) but in teaching in an interdisciplinary way. In my
undergraduate college, for example, the freshman comp teacher knew exactly
what the chem prof was teaching -- because they were teaching it together!

I think it was a good "catch" to suggest that perhaps we also need to look
at "general" vs. "vocational/technical" education -- and I agree that such
a discussion would be somewhat different from our discussion on
interdisciplinarity. However, I think this new issue may be put better as
a distinction between "general" vs. "specialized" education -- a thread
that has been discussed recently here. Two undergraduates, enrolled in
the same "college of arts and sciences" you mention, can come out very
different along the general-to-specialized continuum.

Finally, there is a reason that the folk wisdom you quote includes both

1. Jack of all trades AND ...
2. Master of none.

If you omit the second part I believe you also must give up any criticism
of such a person. There is absolutely nothing wrong, that I can see, with
knowing something about a lot of things.


"John Gunkler" <>

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