The Eroding Foundations of Education

Recently the Wall Street Journal published an article detailing the failure of many colleges to require courses in economics, history, government, or foreign languages. As a result, the study shows, “A majority of U.S. college graduates don’t know the length of a congressional term, what the Emancipation Proclamation was, or which Revolutionary War general led the American troops at Yorktown.” More significant than the absence of basic facts are the growing complains from employers “that graduates are entering the workforce without basic skills such as critical thinking.” Representatives of some of the institutions negatively implicated by the report question the validity of the survey, pointing to an interdisciplinary approach where aspects of history and economics may be wrapped in an art or science class.

Scholars often lament the compartmentalization of the university, where academic disciplines become isolated. This often results in and perhaps is caused by academics focusing on narrower and narrower fields. As I’ve heard it explained previously: a good scholar will work to know more and more about less and less until eventually she knows everything about nothing. This is tongue in cheek, but does represent the trend of specialization and the lack of an integrated community of learning that exists in most academic institutions.

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