STRATEGIES FOR CHANGE
William H. Newell
A real possibility exists within American higher education for establishing a symbiotic relationship between the reductionist academic disciplines and holistic interdisciplinary study. While a long-time advocate of interdisciplinary education, I have become convinced that the disciplines and interdisciplinary study need each other: neither can stand alone.
The disciplines need interdisciplinary study at both the societal and individual levels. Much of our failure to deal with the increasingly complex societal and global problems we have faced in the twentieth century is attributable to our reliance on expertise grounded in disciplines that are better and better at analyzing smaller and smaller pieces of large complex issues. It is becoming increasingly obvious that we need to educate experts in the process of integrating those valuable, but limited, discipline-based insights into a holistic understanding of the larger issues. To use Bill Reckmeyer's language, interdisciplinary study offers our best hope for managing the "messes" in which we find ourselves.
At the level of the individual, the narrow foci of disciplines have proven dangerous as well as ineffective. They have contributed to the sense of isolation and communal detachment that increasingly characterizes individuals in modern societies, especially a society as large as the United States. Some of the blame for the glorification of selfishness and irresponsibility symbolized by the recent Reagan administration perhaps should be assigned to the reductionist mode of disciplinary thinking taught in our colleges and universities. Certainly, the liberal education provided by most colleges and universities did little to counteract that perversion of individualism.