Liberal Arts Resurface in Vocational Schools

Published October 21, 2015

School Choice Weekly #110

The Atlantic has an information-packed article this week detailing how and why high-powered vocational schools and military academies are resurrecting the liberal arts. Selected quotes:

‘People without a liberal-arts background really have no place to go with their skill sets,’ said Frank Guido, a Culinary Institute student from Rochester, New York, sitting in the campus café and studying the Mayan Indians for a course he’s taking in history and culture. ‘They lack an overall knowledge, and an ability to relate to people and make educated decisions, and not jump to conclusions.’ …

‘It’s important to develop in young people the ability to think broadly, to operate in the context of other societies and become agile and adaptive thinkers,’ [said Brigadier General Timothy Trainor, West Point’s academic dean]. ‘What you’re trying to do is teach them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. They’re having to deal with people from other cultures. They have to think very intuitively to solve problems on the ground.’

That’s what employers say they need in their new hires, too. Three-quarters want more emphasis on critical thinking, problem-solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge, according to a survey of 318 corporate leaders by the Association of American Colleges and Universities …

‘There’s a certain level of anti-intellectualism in the popular culture that inappropriately sees the pursuit of core disciplines as frivolous. And that’s unfortunate, because the kind of things you learn in philosophy courses and history courses deepens your ability to act in the world,’ [said Michael Sperling, vice president for academic affairs at the private, nonprofit Culinary Institute.]

The Pioneer Institute has a new paper discussing how to promote vocational education without sacrificing the liberal arts. Republican leaders, including Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Scott Walker, have scoffed at the idea that the liberal arts are anything but wasteful at best and leftist political indoctrination at worst, as the article mentions. And it’s true that a lot of time-wasting happens under the guise of social studies.

But this is a counterfeit of the liberal arts, which, as people The Atlantic interviewed noted, in their proper form expose people to a variety of opposing viewpoints in order to cultivate their good judgment. This is why America’s founders celebrated a liberal education as integral to a self-governing society. You can’t govern yourself without good judgment. And perhaps nothing is better than history, science, language, and mathematics to cultivate such habits of mind.

While leading Democrats nowadays seem more concerned about getting people into higher education than assessing whether it’s actually higher, leading Republicans need also to remember that often the most effective way to achieve a complex goal is not to aim directly at it. In other words, we often don’t become happy by trying to make ourselves happy, but by trying to serve others. We often find love when we’re not obsessing over it.

In the same way, if we merely aim education at career training, instead of higher, children often will get neither useful career training nor the education benefits that transcend a career–such as leadership ability, good judgment, communication skills, and character.

Perhaps vocational training is not an ironic, but the most likely, place for leaders to be realizing these truths. After all, vocational training is typically far more market-driven and entrepreneurial than most colleges and K–12 institutions. This is a strong hint that restoring market balance to education is likely to also help revitalize our culture and citizenry.

SOURCES: The Atlantic, Pioneer Institute


School Choice Roundup

  • DC: The House is scheduled for a Wednesday vote on a bill to extend the District of Columbia’s voucher program. h/t Politico
  • ARIZONA: Parents use 17 percent of their kids’ education savings account money for individualized items other than private tuition, such as tutoring and therapy, finds a forthcoming study.

Common Core and Curriculum Watch

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