Vocational training v liberal arts

Bruce Charlton argues that:

When universities and colleges worked properly, or at least much better than they do now (which is ‘hardly at all’) – then they were vocational institutions.

Medieval universities taught that which was necessary for an individual to become a member of the intellectual ruling class (logic, grammar, rhetoric, mathematics) – and that was the vocational purpose of becoming a ‘Master of Arts’ (Magister Artium).

The Doctoral degrees were also vocational – both in a specific sense of educating for practice in Divinity, Law and Medicine – but also in the general sense of being a license to teach at Universities.

Though I have much sympathy for the necessity for relevance of education, i.e. some form of usefulness later, especially in the light of the false ideologies underpinning education today and the production of useless drones who aren’t even “educated” in the fullest sense of the word [please see Frankfurt School], nevertheless, I think Bruce is too vocationally driven here.

No argument that we need strongly vocationally driven education but there is also such a thing as the liberal arts and that is, now that it’s no longer a training camp for the ruling class, an exercise in itself, which produces a well-rounded individual.  Admittedly, my grounding was at a public school but I’d hardly see it as fitting me for taking on the reins of power – I’m no lawyer or former governor.

Rather, it is an example of the theory that it’s better for freedom if a person is well-educated, in an all-round way.  Such a person is less likely to be misled by Marxists, less swayed by ignorant opinion – just a better person altogether.  Not only that but it should be a pursuit of state schools as well as independent.  Any child coming out of that system should at least have rubbed shoulders with the classics, along with all sorts of other things, such as dance/drama, mechanics, domestic science [male and female] – in other words, general usefulness.

More than that, discipline has a huge effect on self-discipline and self-discipline does not necessarily have to mean conformity to a laid down mode of dress or behaviour.  It can be that people feel comfortable with societal norms, if they’re good norms but a self-disciplined man or woman is often an independent minded man or woman or at least the two should go hand in hand.

I think you see where this is going …

5 comments for “Vocational training v liberal arts

  1. Bruce Charlton
    June 21, 2011 at 13:41

    Thanks for covering this.

    I agree that ‘the liberal arts’ (in a strict, classical sense: trivium and quadrivium kind of thing) should be covered – but I would say they should be covered at *school*, before age 16/18.

    (Plus the learning of essential factual knowledge’ about one’s own culture – which should really happen before age 12/14, when the factual memory is most retentive).

    After this, *most* people in college/ university education (which should only be a small percentage of the population) ought to be doing vocational stuff (professional training).

    Colleges and universities should also include higher and further education in the Liberal Arts – again vocationally: i.e. mainly aimed at those who who intend (and are able) to *teach* the next generation.

  2. June 21, 2011 at 15:03

    “Such a person is less likely to be misled by Marxists, less swayed by ignorant opinion – just a better person altogether. ”

    Huh? Are you in elitist mode today then James?
    I’d have thought a decent education is one that enables the student to come to their own decision on Marxists or capitalists, or religion or any other fact of life, not one that sways the student’s mind one way or another.
    That way lies tyranny.

    • June 21, 2011 at 15:20

      I’d have thought a decent education is one that enables the student to come to their own decision on Marxists or capitalists,

      Precisely and that’s what they can’t get with the Marxist educators. It’s all obliteration of all other ideologies. It’s like saying we should let 30s Germans make up their own minds between Nazism and Jewishness. A little bit lopsided.

  3. June 21, 2011 at 15:46

    I don’t think you can educate someone without swaying them one way or another, except by sending them to sleep. I had a teacher like that.

    I take your point about the liberal arts though. I’d raise the status of moral teaching even though it is a political minefield. It is too easy to be educated and immoral, or more likely amoral.

  4. June 21, 2011 at 16:17

    Teachers have their own views which are bound to come through, to some extent, but emphasising one “path” or ideal, or way of life above any alternatives is manipulating young minds, no better than propaganda.

    I’m not advocating Marxist educators any more than conservative, libertarian, capitalist or corporatist educators. The educator should be presenting all sides and ALL arguments for and against.

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