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Specialization Vs. Jack Of All Trades - Editorial

What's The Best Education

Text By Jason Thompson

What’s The Best Education?
Back in high school, I liked to work on cars and trucks. I didn’t really care about reading anything except repair manuals and magazines like Car Craft, Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road, Hot Rod, and Four Wheeler. My plan was to be a master electrician, and in my spare time I’d have a massive garage filled with welders, lifts, and machining equipment.

That dream was put on hold when my parents convinced me a college education was for the best. I figured I would humor them, but with my grades I figured I’d never get in. It turns out reading all those magazines paid off, as my reading comprehension test score on the SAT helped offset my horrible math scores.

My Diesel Education
While in college, my professors expected me to focus on a core curriculum, but I was still carrying around my beloved car magazines and looking for more. I snuck into the engineering department of my college (or friends’ colleges that had better programs) and wished I could have been more gifted in math. Then, in a history class, I read about the Renaissance Period and how people in those days benefited from the fact that they were knowledgeable in every subject. I compared that with how our modern culture asks us to specialize in things so much—and I decided I like the old way better.

I don’t buy the “Things are so complex today to master everything,” argument. I think our educational system has fundamentally been changed. There are two perspectives on the subject; the first is from one of our nation’s founding fathers, and the second is from a president who represents what I call the sell-out mentality we follow now.

“Those persons, whom nature has endowed with genius and virtue, should be rendered by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens; and . . . they should be called to that charge without regard to wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstance.” — Thomas Jefferson, 1779

We want one class of persons to have a liberal education and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education.” — Woodrow Wilson, 1909

The Real World
I fear that in today’s day and age, most employers are looking for young, cheap, and instantly experienced technicians—not freethinkers with broad expertise. For example, the hospital my baby was born in had a tech whose only job was to administer drugs using a machine that supplied a dose of chemicals. When the big moment arrived, and it was just the technician, my wife, and me in the room—I was the one who took action to get the baby into position. All the technician seemed to know was how to monitor the drug-dosing machine.

A well-rounded doctor would have been more worried about the baby and the mother, and not the machine. But with no doctor in the room, I had to spring into action and practically deliver the baby myself. I still got a $30,000 bill, plus $5,000 for the drug. This example of extreme specialization translates into other fields as well, including diesel mechanics.

Apprenticeships Are The New Renaissance
If you don’t want to be replaceable, I think you always want to make sure you know as much as possible, about as many things as possible. The quickest way to learn a lot of stuff is still to go to school. I felt this was the case after I got out of college and headed back to school in order to become a certified diesel technician.

But if you have the time, I’d argue the ultimate education is when you find an older, more experienced person who’s done it all before. After all, every teacher needs the strong back of a student, and every student needs the strong head of a teacher. When they both come together, that is when the schooling really begins.

By Jason Thompson
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