Liberal and Vocational Education

Liberal and Vocational Education


The ancient world believed education was the perfection of human beings by development of excellences both moral and intellectual. For them, the goals of education were individual happiness and social welfare.

If asked whether education should be for vocations, the ancients would say the common pursuit of happiness is the only vocation of such concern. What today is specialized vocational training for specific jobs they would see as training for slaves, not education for citizens.

In 1776, economist Adam Smith proposed a minimal education for all citizens. His view was that a man incapable of using his intellect, as the stultified industrial worker with no real craft or skill, is not fully human, that the division of industrial labor limiting him to a few simple operations makes him a mere cog of the industrial machinery.

Consequently, said Smith, the unskilled, virtually mechanical worker becomes as mindless and ignorant as humans can be, incapable of not only rational conversation but also of any generous, noble, or unselfish idea or moral judgment.

Adam Smith’s view may apply to the 18th far more than to the 21st Century, but it is true that specialized vocational training for limited industrial assembly tasks is not true education in any traditional sense.

The ancients believed not all men should have liberal educations because they did see them as fit to pursue happiness or leisurely studies. But today devotion to democratic principles maintains that all men indeed should have equal rights to pursue happiness from the benefits and pleasures of civilization, so democratic society must offer liberal education to everyone.

Liberal and Vocational Education

As the main purpose of higher education changed from learning for learning’s sake to preparing for work and careers, new curricula became necessary. One significant modification was the movement away from the classical, European model toward one narrower and more selective of liberal studies emphasizing a broadly-based appreciation of knowledge, an ability to analyze and solve problems, and a desire to improve society.

By the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, many working-class fields of business, engineering, nursing, and teaching became courses of study in the four-year college curriculum. Vocational and practical education had become a major part of higher education.

Recognizing the importance of both vocational training and classical education, many colleges developed courses that all students would complete before graduation. This set of courses became core curricula. This curricular model has come to be a fundamental component of higher education based on expectations that a set of specific courses for all students would encourage them to make connections across disciplines and between formal instruction and informal learning outside the classroom.

Motivation Most Important for Education

Millions pay exorbitant fees in college tuition to learn what is freely available to those with a driving desire to learn. In the movie Good Will Hunting, an arrogant college student pays a fortune for an education available for the price of a library card. Although many famous autodidacts have proven the plausibility of this scenario, most people believe what knowledge they could acquire for themselves on their own must be inferior to what they would learn at an institution to which they would pay lots of money for an academic degree attesting to their studies no matter how much actual work they do in the process.

Credentials have had a long history as groups with advantageous information or knowledge have tried to maintain their positions with guilds, trade associations, exclusive clubs, and esoteric programs. Teachers and educators may profess noble intentions, but their economic position in society depends by design upon restricted, specialized knowledge.

Professional educators have coined categories of attributes from self-help to bootstrapping to describe individual learning as an aberration not to be compared to the discipline of formal schooling, yet throughout history self-educated people from all social stations have risen to confront challenges facing them, set new standards for learning, and raised the level of achievement for their societies. Civil societies need colleges and universities with teachers willing to share their knowledge enthusiastically. But the idea that the only learning worthwhile comes from institutions treating it as a scarcity is untrue. Self-motivation is always the most important part of any education.

I’d like to thank ITIC, Syney based IT training organisation, for inspiring me to write this article.