Soft Boundaries: Re-Visioning the Arts and Aesthetics in American Education

By Claire Detels | Go to book overview

1
Hard Times, Hard Boundaries

Since the scientific and industrial revolutions, life in the West has been characterized by increasing specialization: a tendency toward ever-higher standards of competence for ever-narrower goals. Ernest Gellner has define this phenomenon as "single-purpose, instrumental/rational activity," in which individuals define and pursue specialized goals with far greater efficiency and uniformity than is possible in the "multipurposed" behavior of less technologically advanced societies. 5 In industry, specialization has brought us the production line and a constant growth of technology and new consumer products. In academics, specialization has brought us a proliferation of knowledge in every imaginable area of human thought, leading to ever-increasing specialization as disciplines and subdisciplines expand beyond the ability of individual scholars to understand them.


THE EFFECT OF SPECIALIZATION ON EDUCATION IN THE HUMANITIES

Specialization has taken root in academics in part because the needs for and benefits of academic specialization are so obvious. With specialization, the knowledge and skills in a discipline seem to be constantly growing, as new generations of specialists and specializations arise. In his History of Knowledge ( 1991), Charles Van Doren explains the historical development of academic specialization:

The Aristotelian ideal of the educated person, "critical" in all or almost all branches of knowledge, survived for centuries as the aim of a liberal education. . . . [But t]he twen

An earlier version of this chapter appeared in the Spring 1999 issue of Philosophy of Music Education Review under the tide "Hard Boundaries and the Marginalization of the Arts in American Education."

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