State of the Art

It may have seemed as though I flit about Boston University’s world my first two years there. But there was a method to it.
I enrolled in an expanding series of English courses that explored the development of the “city” through world literature. I needed some science, so I began taking geography courses. Eventually, I gravitated towards political science, history, and then Anthropology. The nice thing about my hunt and peck style of coursework turned out how the information gleaned in one applied to the other. As my fund of general knowledge grew, I did specialize; in anthropology. Years later, when I left anthropology for other professional pursuits, I was grateful for the broad and deep fund of education Boston University had given me. I had multiple capabilities and knowledge.

In recent years, the type of education I received has fallen out of favor as more specialized education tracks have developed. The success of strict specialization depends on the “state of the art” in the industry in which you studied. You can quickly become redundant in an age where the educational system has become a factory conveyor belt for business. Being perceived as too old, too stale, or unable to continue learning can be fatal. The phrase “lifelong learning” seems to come along in the nick of time, conveniently. It allows professionals to hop on the academic conveyor belt to another degree or specialization.

I’m not sure that this attacks the underlying problem.

These are some of my observations. After starting my business as a woodcarver, I found myself not only producing but also teaching. For my week-long classes, I set up a library of art, carving, design, and books on other topics. I also brought with me the widest variety of carved samples that I could. I always encouraged students to take a break and use the library.
Over the years, I witnessed many talented lawyers, engineers, and others dig into topics that they had never gotten exposed to in school. More than a few of my students were in my class because they had sensed that they needed new directions. They were canny enough to begin the exploration process on their own.
Among the things I learned early in my education was that there could be a synergy among seemingly unrelated items. To an extent, this has become a keystone concept for interdisciplinary studies. There can be some exciting results of specialties running together. My first brother-in-law was an engineer and mathemetician for NASA. He became an enthusiastic amateur Archeologist. After dinner one night, he showed me some studies he had done on a Virginia midden ( ancient trash heap) that explained how the material had gotten deposited by the colonial settlers. I believed he used it as the basis for his thesis in archeology.
These sort of synergies only occur when people get exposed to multiple streams of knowledge. To end with a very bad mangling of a trope from Ghostbusters, you need to cross the streams.

One Reply to “State of the Art”

  1. So true, Louis. As you say, Universities talk about establishing “interdisciplinary collaboration ” yet their programs continue to grow more and more specific, and kids have to find their own ways to round up their education.

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