Why do humans insist on categorizing everything? Is the human brain a series of discrete, isolated compartments where information is stored-retracted via a master distribution-acquisition system?
Not only do our brains seem fragmented, but also, we are supposed to only use certain parts of our brain once we decide which functions to employ. If you are good at linguistics then you cannot be a mathematician. Those with strong math skills should devote most time developing mathematical prowess. Math is generally perceived as difficult and practitioners of the craft are in short supply, so it is almost a duty to do something with that rare gift.
Using more than one part of your brain in the same thought, or series of connected thoughts, is implicitly discouraged. Specialization is the key to a rising academic status. Education creates human blocks of expertise and then the blocks are stacked to create progressively more complicated structures. This is how we built the foundation of modern civilization, no?
During childhood—actually it continues into the early adult years, through college—a series of strategically timed bells dictates when it’s time to utilize a different part of the brain. Some say school bells had an even more basic purpose when they started ringing during the late industrial age. The bells conditioned students in preparation for a life on the production line.
Knowledge divisions are logical but arbitrary: language, social studies, math, science and art. Each discipline competes for time and influence in a zero sum game. Remember: Individuals must eventually choose only one focus subject.
Double majors are a chore and held in high regard, but they are an exception to normal, and the two fields are almost always closely related: math-computer science, electrical-mechanical engineering, English-history… When was the last time you heard of a math-history double major? I am sure it happens, but it’s rare.
In a display of equity, policy dictates each subject gets equal time. This is absurd because we all know science requires lab activity on top of classical instruction, and math is difficult to learn without problem solving exercises with teacher assistance. There is some correction for this absurdity in college: math and science classes often get four or five credit-contact hours while most other subjects only get three.
The grand prize of education is a Doctorate of Philosophy. A Ph.D. is an expert in one sliver of the knowledge spectrum. To earn this lofty distinction, one must make a unique contribution to some field. A Ph.D. knows something that is obscure to the rest of humanity. A doctorate is almost universally required to be a professor.
Essentially, a professor knows everything about nearly nothing, and they teach it to very few.
The dutiful researcher is at the top of the educational food chain. Researchers typically avoid the classroom; when professors do share their knowledge with the masses it tends to be in the form of caned lectures to hundreds of young adults. The grand cathedral of knowledge is mostly available only to people who have yet to acquire any significant measure of wisdom.
Teaching assistants tackle the details of coursework in recitations. Professors answer questions too, but only during rarefied office hours or brisk appointments.
The whole process resembles an assembly line when viewed from a distant and detached perspective. We manufacture individual cerebral parts and bring them together to make a working machine of sorts.
Not that this is all bad but with technology making information more accessible, it seems the skill most needed is the ability to process ideas from as many parts of the information spectrum as possible. We do not need a learned professor to divvy out parcels of knowledge according to a four-year plan anymore.
All we need to know is out there in the ether waiting for us to access it. If anything needs to be taught formally it’s how to bring all this accumulated knowledge together in one fluid motion of thought.