Specialization – Idiocy – Jason Peters – Education
…colleges and universities are essentially diploma retailers obsequiously bent on making the shopping experience of their customers enjoyable and painless.
For education presently conceived and presently practiced has but one goal: the mass production of idiots.
I’m speaking—I hope—in fairly precise terms here.
An “idiot,” from the Greek idios (“private,” “own,” “peculiar”), is someone who is peculiar because he is closed in on himself or separated or cut off. In short, he is a specialist. If he knows anything, he knows one thing.
The idiot may have extensive knowledge of a given thing, but to the extent that he has no sense of where to place that knowledge in the larger context of what is known and knowable, and to the extent that he doesn’t know that the context for the known and the knowable is the unknown and the unknowable—to that extent his knowledge ceases to be knowledge and becomes a collection of mere facts, which, as Cervantes said, are the enemy of truth.
Again, I would not be misunderstood. In a manner of speaking we are all idiots, and anyone impertinent enough to get a Ph.D. flirts with idiocy every day of his life by virtue of the requisite and necessary specialization that attends the enterprise. That there are benefits to such specialization is, I think, unquestionable. It took a specialist to operate on my knee. It takes a specialist to make a fine cabinet or a good bookcase. But specialization is a limited, not an absolute, good, and it should never mistake itself for true intelligence. You may be an eminent Harvard biologist who knows a great deal about ants; you may be a brilliant if wheel-chair-bound British physicist who knows a great deal about string theory. But no amount of ants or strings or knowledge of how many ants can dance on the head of a string qualifies you to say that God is a delusion or human love a brain state. The world, said Thoreau, and rightly he said it (playing a variation on Hamlet’s theme), is bigger than our ideas of it.