Specialization or Diversification: In Which Direction?


The Metamodern, education. Inside, Looking Out

“Do you think the purpose of education is reading, writing and arithmetic? The purpose of education is to change the thoughts, actions and feelings of students…”


By Damien Rush
“Nomade” (above, interior) by Richard Plensa

Complacency in our education systems is proving detrimental. There are lingering conflicts between specialization models and diversification models. More schools of thought are coming around to accepting a more generalized curriculum with less specialization giving students a more rounded approach in understanding the incredibly fast changing environment coming at them every day. The progressing Industrial Revolution has been producing more and more stimuli at an exponentially faster rate than ever before. Is it any wonder that Attention Deficit Disorder has become as prevalent today as the common cold?

Specialization is a rigid approach to specific factual learning. Diversification allows a liberal approach to learning as a more “natural” experience.

In a world constantly changing it is imperative that educational standards evolve with that change. Some programs such as the Montessori system, for example, allow the student to explore and find a natural path to his or her own education. Founded by Maria Montessori, the first female graduate of Rome Medical School, the program “begins with a specifically designed environment that gives access to a variety of materials and objects to help children learn through exploration. This self-directed learning allows children to develop their unique talents and abilities through their own learning style, while building confidence and a sense of independence.” There’s not much of that happening in our Public School Systems anymore. Occasionally you will stumble across a high school for the arts or some such thing, but they’re quite rare in America. This also reflects a need to defend the preservation of Arts and Humanities in the curriculum.

Art and Design are as crucial as Business, Math, Physics, History and all the rest, but unfortunately the Arts are the first to go when budget issues arise. Victor Papanek writes in Design for the Real World, “Some social historians tell us that the predicament of twentieth century man can be traced unerringly to the discoveries of five men: Copernicus, Malthus, Darwin, Marx and Freud, but in the last [fifty] or so years the interfaces between sociology and biology, between psychology and anthropology, between archeology and medicine have generated wide new insights into the human condition”.

And where do the components and aesthetics enabling us to facilitate all of this elegance come from? Artists and Designers. Ultimately, everything comes from an idea. An abstract thought from the other side of the brain. Art is an idea, but the Arts have no monopoly on the elegance of reflection, discovery and invention. We also see elegant theoretical concepts in Math, Science and Physics when independent thought and creativity enter the mind. This is why some prefer a more diverse or classical education with an emphasis on the Arts than that of specialized fields formulated for adaption to corporate cubicles or marketing poorly designed objects that nobody needs in a world full of war, poverty and the constant threat of scarce resources.

The Metamodern EDUCATION Specialization or Diversification?
Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images

Research has shown that math and literacy scores are elevated in a curriculum with strong Art and Music programs and that creativity and critical thinking are interdependent. The interdependence of various disciplines can best be illustrated by a story Buckminster Fuller told:

“Around the 70’s two important papers were presented to learned societies; one on anthropology and the other on biology. Both researchers were working completely independently. It happened by chance that I saw both papers. The biological study was looking into all the biological species that have become extinct. The anthropological one was looking into all the human tribes that had become extinct. Both researchers were trying to find a commonality of causes for extinction. Both of them found the same cause independently – extinction is a consequence of over-specialization. As you get more and more specialized, you inbreed specialization. It’s organic. Hence you out-breed general adaptability.”

And here we have a warning, from as far back as the 1970’s that specialization is a way to extinction and our whole society and educational system is still thus organized. We have been breeding complacent majorities of non- thinkers through a homogenized process of education reinvented by Corporate America. Thirty years ago, not many were complaining about the school system. That was back when we had a strong middle class paying property and commercial taxes in economically sound neighborhoods which contributed to above average if not the best education in the World. If you wanted to go into the Trades, there were regional Vocational Schools. If you wanted a more specific education than what the Public Schools were offering, you had the option of going to a private school. The limited varieties of quality options parents are left to choose from today are making homeschooling very popular, but give rise to an entirely new set of concerns.

It might appear that the only reason for standardized testing is so the system can weed out the geniuses. These may be the nonconformist thinkers and individuals who are inquisitive enough to bring an entirely new perspective or challenge the established and sometimes obsolete modes of education. The most important thing we can do with our minds is to keep them open. There is no such thing as an “established society”. We are always an “emerging” society and all of our education systems should be reflecting that.

“As you get more and more specialized you inbreed specialization. It’s organic. Hence you out-breed general adaptability.”

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