Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Renaissance Man

Nowadays, we praise specialization as the answer to our problems. A man should focus his qualifications in one direction. People should pursue that talent which best suits them. Comparative advantage and such and so forth. I cannot dispuit that persons should become authorities in the subject they toil at most regularly.

It is clear, however, that the idols of our society are not trapped in a single expertise. Theodore Roosevelt was never exclusively a politician. Benjamin Franklin pursued other interests outside his printing shop. Bill Clinton plays saxophone. Closer to home, our SWEET faculty moderator is pursuing a Doctoral degree with her thesis, titled "Thresholds and Natural Resource Decisions: A Case Study on Institutional Resilience and Adaptation Given a Changing Climate".

My own thesis sounds much less impressive but suffices for the same point: "Economic Considerations for Greenhouse Heating in Alaska". This is not a thesis on economics, nor a survey of greenhouse designs, nor a discussion of Alaskan climates. It is a discussion of the interrelation of these factors and their effect on management decisions. It is not possible without understanding all of these factors.

As qualified as I might be to lecture on greenhouse covering materials, I absolutely have other fields of expertise. Ask me about the fate and transport of 2,3,7,8-tetrachloroethylene in soil and groundwater. Ask me about photography, politics, Ethiopian history or economics. Save some time and look at my resume, and you will see that no one qualification dominates.

I submit that the key to success is not exclusively specialization, nor specifically generalization. Those who we admire most are well rounded adults with a wealth of different experiences. They can impress many people from many backgrounds. The hallmark of the Renaissance Man is a strong base from which to expand. To me, this means that the basic and fundamental requirement for formal education is to teach the pupil how to learn.

Rothsbard argues that in adulthood the individual interests may be expanded upon, and I agree with this. He argues that the education should emphasize the particular skills of the child, and with this I disagree. I believe that a standardized curriculum gives children necessary generalization from which to expand, with specalization coming later. I believe giving citizens the base from which they may succeed is a responsibility of the State. Private schools are great, but how would the fundamental educational base be guarenteed for the less prosperous citizens?


  1. >how would the fundamental educational base be guarenteed for the less prosperous citizens?

    Easy. State subsidized schooling (i.e. voucher systems) instead of one-size fits all nationalized public schooling. Provides essentially the same base (reading, writing, arithmetic) with fewer of the inefficiencies of bureaucratic public education institutions.

  2. Agreed (reluctantly). One might point to the positive feedback loop of rising college tuition and rising voucher prices, as some would argue is seen with financial aid and college education.

  3. Of course, in a truly competitive market this wouldn't be a problem. I have the worry that the pesky little details wouldn't be quite so little if that idea were implemented. Our question is whether the difficulties of a voucher system would be an improvement over the difficulties of a State-sponsored system.