(This post is part of the series on postsecondary education.)
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Here is part of a comment from MelanieB. on this post:
... There is much to be said of a profession which leads you to contemplation of greater truths, I'm not denying that. But it isn't exactly equivalent to actual training in the discipline of philosophy, to reading and considering the great philosophical thinkers of the past. Of course neither is it at all incompatible. But I suspect nurses and engineers both actively benefit from more classes in literature and art and philosophy to help them draw out those connections and to solidify that relationship between thinking and doing.
The problem I see-- from the other side of the fence, granted-- is that utilitarian programs of education don't often leave much room for the liberal arts as a course of study. How many nursing majors are able to squeeze in actual philosophy classes-- not just medical ethics but epistemology or metaphysics, not to mention classes in art history, or Shakespeare or theology?...
In other words, I don't think it should be an either-or but a both-and. I think liberal arts majors do need training in practical skills and I think engineers and nurses and accountants need the intellectual disciplines that the liberal arts provide.
If you look at the classical trivium and quadrivium you see a progression from the more practical to the more abstract. But medieval and renaissance scholars were almost always engaged in practical manual endeavors alongside the more abstract studies. The modern world has lost those connections because of our increasing emphasis on specialization.
So I guess we're still left with the practical questions of how to both prepare our young people for the demands of the "real world", for the need to earn their living, to provide for their families, while at the same time ensuring that they are fully-formed in both the intellectual and spiritual sense.
The problem to me seems to be that you really can't [fit] that kind of formation into a high school curriculum. Or can you? Looking back in the medieval university students began working on their bachelors degree at 14 or 15. Perhaps we could seek to make high school-- especially the homeschool high school-- more like a classical university?
These are all very good questions, and among the ones that I am trying to find an answer for.
One question that occurs to me: If the classical liberal arts education is so vitally important, then why would it be something that you have to go to college for?
The parts of a liberal arts education that are truly necessary for full human development, it seems, ought to be provided before age 18. Otherwise, we're all but saying that high school graduates in all kinds of fields aren't fully developed persons. And I can't stomach that conclusion.
High school, not college, is where we need to provide at least latent competency in all the areas of thought that are necessary components of a whole education. The tools of learning.
One other thing that is interesting. You say that in the classical trivium and quadrivium there is a progression from the practical to the abstract. But it strikes me that when we specialize in a practical career in college, after perhaps having a more liberal education in high school, we are talking about a reverse progression from the abstract to the practical. This seems to be a much more fundamental shift in the understanding of what "education" means than merely the fact of specialization.