Is Education Losing the Whole in the Parts?

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Francis Schaeffer wrote, "In our modern forms of specialized education there is a tendency to lose the whole in the parts, and in this sense we can say that our generation produces few truly educated people. True education means thinking by associating across the various disciplines, and not just being highly qualified in one field ..." (The God Who is There, p. 32).

The late American philosopher Mortimer Adler shared Schaeffer's concerns and referred to "the barbarism of specialization"--a term used by Jose Ortega y Gasset in his 1930 book The Revolt of the Masses. Adler points out that the great books of the Western world were all written by generalists, not by specialists.

But what do Adler and Schaeffer mean? Surely specialization is helpful to some extent. No one wants to have brain surgery performed by a physician who is not a specialist. Schaeffer and Adler do not dispute this. Instead, they were concerned with the overall lack of knowledge in areas of great importance. What are these areas of great importance? Some of these areas include science, literature, philosophy, art, music, history, and religion. There is nothing wrong with specializing in certain areas, but to more fully integrate the Christian worldview into every area of our lives, we need a better understanding of the significant areas and intellectual contributions of the great ideas and how they have shaped humanity.

In sum, it is to our advantage to broaden our educational horizons so we don't lose the whole in the parts. Fortunately, Sonlight Curriculum covers a broad spectrum of ideas and, in the process, helps children gain a well-rounded understanding of history, science, literature, philosophy, and more. One recent example of our efforts in this regard is 520 World History and Worldview Studies.

Robert Velarde
Author/Educator/Philosopher

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