Ceasar's Mind

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Posts Tagged ‘generalization

Specialization, Generalization, and Education

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Despite being able to major in Computer Science and Math while being enrolled in the College and SEAS, one of the reasons I plan to drop out of the College is because it mandates taking a lot of courses to provide a wide breadth of knowledge. This is understandable, particularly for those who are seeking a liberal arts education, except in a lot of ways, it really isn’t so much.

I recently attended a talk by Norm Finkelstein here at Penn and listened to him discuss the conflict between Palestine and Israel, and in particular, the atrocities that Israel committed in the Gaza “War”. Finkelstein has spent the last 30 years of his life studying the conflict, and while he has his critics, he is generally a very well respected man. What’s important here though, is why he’s so respected, and that’s because he’s one of the world’s premiere experts on the conflict between Israel and Palestine. More importantly, he is NOT particularly well educated on other issues or other areas of academic interest. (Not to say he’s dumb, just to say that is not his specialty.) Contrasted with a person who is not specialized, I personally see Finkelstein as far superior, for his knowledge has real value, as opposed to someone who knows a little of everything.

Now, to a degree, breadth is important. Many of the world’s greatest discoveries and innovations were only possible through an extensive understanding of mixed disciplines. But too much leads to a complete waste of time.

This is interesting to me because of a recent book I read called Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. Ferrazzi suggests that while being a part of many things is important to be able to make connections with people, it’s much more important to become an expert on some thing so that people will have a reason to keep you around. Personally, I find this is why I find I have so much trouble connecting with people- though I know a lot about certain subjects, many people simply aren’t interested, and subsequently no connection can be made. (The problem is compounded by the lack of niches for people with my interests. On that note, I probably ought to set to work to really make one for myself.)

In Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky, Ferrazzi’s point is embellished. Shirky points out that in online communities, the most interesting conversations are those discussed over very specific interests. Thus there is a kind of paradox- the more narrow your interests, the less likely you are to connect, but the better your connections will be if you do.

Anyway, regarding education, I would much rather see the University promote more specialization, and simply remove the requirements of minimal breadth since I, and presumably the rest of the world, would much much more value in somebody who can speak about something they are passionate about and an expert on rather than be engaged with somebody who has nothing to say at all.

Written by Ceasar Bautista

2011/01/27 at 18:00