Pandemic Induced Educational Changes May End ‘Renaissancal Thinking’ Increasing Value to All Types of Education
by Shelomo Alfassa, MPA
October 19, 2020
Photos & Video below
The pandemic has been a catalyst to demonstrate a marked transformation in the American education system. It has clearly demonstrated that the traditional manner of higher education (i.e. going to university) can now be shifted online, thus forever impacting physical brick and mortal institutions. With exceptionally advancing computer technology, digitizing library stacks and making journals available online, it allows instructors and students to fulfill their academic duties from the comfort and practicality of their homes.
A university system operating a brick and mortar institution with $X as an annual budget can only accept X amount of students due to facility size and practical reasons—however, a virtual university can use that same exact $X in annual funding to hire many more instructors and open their doors to myriad more students across a vast geographic area. This is because there is no (or a decreased amount of) costs associated with physical overhead such as mortgages, faculty and support salaries, utilities, maintenance, etc.
In coming years, the idea of not (physically) “going off to college” but learning remote may help remove some of the age-old stigma from the choice of selecting to go to trade or vocational school instead of university. A trade or vocational school is a place where one can master a craft and go on to have a significantly fruitful career. As the university student may no longer have to “move away to college,” this may level the social playing field across the board, if not only because both the university student and the vocational student will now be learning at home within their local community.
To help advance trade and vocational educational choices, society must get over its “Renaissancal thinking” dilemma. The Liberal Arts emerged as liberation, not anything associated with being politically liberal as we know it today. What is generally termed the Liberal Arts came about along with the birth of humanism, which was a path to human empowerment, with the pedagogic idea of the trivium and quadrivium, which were first advanced by the Romans in the 6th century. The former is language: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. The latter is numbers: arithmetic, astronomy, music, and geometry. The trivium was important as this is how humans connect with people—through words; and the quadrivium was how humans communicated with the natural world around them—via numbers. During the Renaissance, both the trivium and quadrivium were valued as fostering the unified idea of reality and “proper path” to being educated. This is not unlike how attending a university has remained what many consider the “proper path” to being educated, especially for an education which will help one lead to a good career.
"To help advance trade and vocational educational choices, society must get over its “Renaissancal thinking” dilemma."
It was during the Renaissance that the European economy increased dramatically, as populations grew, sea trade advanced, banks developed, and increasing trade routes connecting the near-East and Asia brought about an explosion of commercial activity. Moreover, it was during this period that art and artisans diverged, and those artisans who developed their craft and both were able to (and who elected to) monetarily capitalize on it, caused their activities to be seen as illiberal arts by the classically educated of society. It was the art of formal knowledge and education that was highly valued for social status and such was obtained by mastering the trivium and quadrivium. Those members of society who lacked the trivium and quadrivium were seen as uneducated. One could say that the use of the hands over use of the brain was seen as of lesser value, and attributed to those who have mastered a lesser pure art. This was the point in history which one can see the separation of “art” and “artisans,” or—those who predominantly work through the mastery of language and science versus those who are considered lesser because they worked with their hands.
Today, the artisan continues to work with their hands to create both beautiful and functional technologically artistic creations, such as engines, micro-computers and machinery in various forms—all of these which are expressive creations, as are writing literature, painting, composing music, or solving equations. Yet, it is the continued antiquated Renaissancal thinking which continues to stifle the flowering of the modern technological artisans and their trades, maintaining that it is only university education and not vocational and technical education which have intrinsic value in our modern society.
The young people of today need to be encouraged, and not taught (either directly or indirectly), that trade and vocations are some sort of “illiberal art” which they should avoid as a choice for their life’s work. Maybe now as university education undergoes a sea change due as a result of the pandemic, we shall see an increased merit of trade and vocational educational, and perhaps society will see all education as intrinsically good no matter where or how or how it is obtained.