Monday, January 27, 2014

The Liberal Arts and the Ideal Christian Educational Institution

The ideal education system:
The ideal educational system is arguably one where everyone in the world is prepared with the "methods of thinking”, information, and relationships just before they need them in order to create "value", erring on the side of becoming prepared through education sooner rather than later. It would provide an overview and foundational ”ways of thinking”, information and relationships for all areas of knowledge, both the “Liberal Arts” areas and the (broadly defined) “Technology” areas. It would then also train each person to be an expert in at least one specific area such that they can monetize/trade that expertise with other experts to achieve division of labor/economy of scale and maximize value (note: “value” can be qualitative and does not necessarily mean monetized value).

Historical Trade-offs due to limited educational resources:
The problem is that because of limited time and resources we can’t yet reach that ideal. So the question for educational institutions is: what should we leave off? Trade schools and apprenticeships tend to focus on providing a marketable expertise but they tend to minimize training on foundational/broader technology and liberal arts. General undergraduate colleges that focus on technical degrees tend to focus on overview/foundational technology knowledge, but they tend to minimize training in the liberal arts and don’t typically provide a particular area of expertise (unless someone continues to get their Doctorate). The Liberal Arts colleges focus on the liberal arts, but they tend to minimize foundational/overview knowledge of technology and they don’t normally provide a particular area of expertise. And all colleges historically have focused just on the four college years, pre-caching "ways of thinking”, information and relationships for students during those four years that the faculty expect they will likely need in the future (rather than also providing resources the students could access in a just-in-time manner either before or after those four years of college education).

The current day form of Reformation we are living through:
The Reformation was arguably enabled by the information technology of the day, the printing press, which allowed a few leaders to publish directly to the masses. Today we have technology that allows the masses to publish to the masses. So, if the information technology of the Reformation allowed every man to become his own priest (one form of education/motivation), then the information technology of today is allowing everyone to become their own evangelists (another form of education/motivation). As the Reformation had a significant effect on education and community, so too we are living through an era where we need to take these kinds of systemic changes into account.

Opportunity to transcend historical trade-offs:
Today Information Technology is bringing a revolution on the order of the Reformation and the printing press, such that we can now get closer to providing the ideal educational system. So, ideally, liberal arts colleges could offer their students overviews/foundational knowledge in both the Liberal Arts and the Technology areas of knowledge (which in fact I think we actually do in many cases, since in reality the Liberal Arts areas of knowledge create “value” by being the foundational supports to the, broadly defined, “Technology” areas of knowledge), as well as at least giving them a plan for obtaining a particular expertise as well. Also, we can help the learning be more broadly “just in time” and global by offering an asynchronous re-branded subset of our services (including access to training, feedback, a community and credentialing) to prospective students, alumni and the general public, including possibly supporting multiple languages.

Rather than the concept of the “ideal educational institution” being at odds with the “ideal Liberal Arts college”, instead what I am promoting is to allow the Liberal Arts education to transcend limitations that have been imposed on all three models of education in the past due to lack of available resources and lack of needed information technologies. I would argue that separation of the three types of educational institutions was necessary in the past to provide division of labor/economy of scale to deal with limited educational technologies/resources. But, as educational resources/capabilities increase and limitations are being removed, all three models now have the ability to grow into a combined model that also covers the areas that historically have been provided by the other two.

I am not arguing that liberal arts colleges should replace anything that they are doing as a college, because we are doing many things well. And I am not just arguing for online education, since face to face embodied education is the gold standard for many reasons. The disciples undoubtedly received a better face to face education with Jesus than we can get by studying the Bible (a book, which itself is a form of Information Technology). Rather, I am arguing that we need to supplement and expand the concept of our institutions to be closer to the ideal educational institution or we will likely lose out when other institutions expand their services into our areas of strength.