Pipes

Academic specialization and task-specific career training has had the unintended negative consequence of narrowing and restricting our culture’s perspective on the world. That “narrow-sightedness” spawns narrow-mindedness and decreases our ability to anticipate and adapt to change, to think creatively “outside the box,” or to engage meaningfully, fruitfully with others outside our own narrow spheres. This approach to education and training has produced fewer, not more, creative problem solvers and visionary leaders and weakened our social, political and ecclesiastical communities. We have a generation that knows only how to look through a pipe darkly. As a culture, we have no peripheral vision. It is self-inflicted cultural blindness.

The modern university has made academic and vocational specialization a cultural norm.

College students are pressed from Day One (of high school actually) to declare-and fixate-on their “majors,” their supposedly long-term career goals, as if little else mattered. Short-sighted businesses and HR offices look for graduates who can fill the pigeon hole of immediate need. They often treat graduates (from assembly-line degree mills) like replaceable parts. If the freshly minted graduate doesn’t work out so well, they toss him or her out and grab another narrowly trained fresh-faced widget off the academic shelf.

The results have not been pretty.

We do not have better educated students, a more skilled workforce, or a more informed citizenry. Instead, we have a generation of mostly instrumental functionaries with tunnel vision. They may know how to look through and navigate the tiny world within the narrow confines of “their little pipe,” their niche area of specialization, but they are pretty much useless beyond it. There they are condemned to be little more the dutiful consumers of the commodities of our increasingly secular culture. They have not been equipped to be makers or shapers of culture. To the contrary, they don’t have right intellectual breadth or cultural horsepower for that higher level of engagement.

But they can feel pretty darn good about themselves when compared to the bar set by “Dumb and Dumber To” in the theaters.

Academic specialization and task-specific career training has had the unintended negative consequence of narrowing and restricting our culture’s perspective on the world. That “narrow-sightedness” spawns narrow-mindedness and decreases our ability to anticipate and adapt to change, to think creatively “outside the box,” or to engage meaningfully, fruitfully with others outside our own spheres of training and function. This approach to education and training has weakened our social, political and ecclesiastical communities to such an extent that it will take years to repair the damage, even if we could change things tomorrow.

We have a generation of university graduates who know only how to look through a pipe darkly. As a culture, we have no peripheral vision. Ours is self-inflicted cultural blindness.

Historically, the integrated classical Christian liberal arts have provided the world with men and women who have peripherial vision, who see the relationships between different aspects of life, who can anticipate change, who solve problems creatively, and who understand the bigger picture. The liberal arts help them understand where they are on the map of life and creation, where they’re headed, and why. Classical liberal arts graduates are some of the few who have a wide-angle perspective and peripheral vision to lead and to shape culture today. We need more. Many more.

Next Entry: Recovering Peripheral Vision