A More Interdisciplinary Education.
Third grade, perhaps, was my best year in school because I was blessed with a teacher who made me more inquisitive: perhaps one day, we’d be watching a documentary on space, another day a philosophical conversation on why the sky’s the limit. His curriculum, interwoven in a handful of disciplines, but, in hindsight, I realize that all of the content was designed to be interlinked, the same way he tied space to philosophy, two very disparate disciplines.
Similarly, a degree in college should require students to engage in a wide array of subjects and allow students to apply their critical thinking skills beyond the narrow scope of their field of study. Some of history’s greatest minds — Leonardo Da Vinci, Lewis Latimer, Marie Curie — beyond their inquisitive nature, what separates them from the rest of the flock is their profound desire to immerse themselves in interdisciplinary crafts. For instance, Da Vinci, a man who etched an indelible mark on the canvas of life, studied anatomy in great depth so that his paintings could reflect the human body in an impeccable fashion.
The problem with higher education stems from the shift to a more narrow curriculum. As an engineer, I shouldn’t only be taking courses pertaining to CAD, probability or mathematics, but instead, also should take classes related to social activism, politics, etc. Aside from honing my critical thinking skills, this will allow me to understand that the work I do as an engineer can play a vital role in society and that I shouldn’t always subvert to the status quo. For instance, if a civil engineer is asked to build the Dakota Access pipeline, which disproportionately affects Native Americans, they would understand that their work spans much further than the blueprints of their design.
With the privatization of education and the establishment of companies such as Coursera, Udemy, etc., universities must not succumb to the demand for “instant gratification” from students and make imprudent changes to degree curriculums. To pivot this issue, institutions could provide additional shorter degree programs and certificates that encompass an interdisciplinary education while continuing to rectify our academic curriculum and pushing the market to demand workers that possess interdisciplinary skills.
Change needs to take place at a grassroots level across the institutions of higher education. Departments must ensure that through their undergrad and graduate degree programs, the scope of learning isn’t limited: How could data science be used in conjunction with social justice to solve issues in our community? Or, perhaps, how can we have philosophical debates in healthcare to assess the right mode of care? These are questions that all departments must ask themselves to better their institution’s higher education plan.