Basically what this essay is trying to say is that the way school divides learning by major is insane, because everything is connected and you can not just learn one thing by itself, and also because there are so many things that cannot fit into those few categories of majors. So school is to make you unable to learn, to enslave you to be used as tools.
In Knowledge Discovery, I talked about why I wanted to study liberal arts, commerce and tech. I think they are the general basic knowledge each individual must have in order to survive and pursue happiness in the modern society. Yet the general education provided by the school system is far from enough for individuals since the school learning is far from the free learning.
Here I just want to talk about the relation between liberal arts, commerce and tech so that you can see they are really deeply intertwined and to excel in one of them you have to be very good at all of them.
I don’t intend the following to be complete. I also don’t intent it to be well organized. I am aware that I cannot do that, since they are so much intertwined.
Business is the biggest reality. In business, you are faced with society and people directly. You have to care about details, have high enthusiasm to carry things out. (In this aspect, many liberal arts people often lack. They often have big concerns and don’t care about the details.) To do business you have to break all the rules, try all the ways and be very flexible in approaching the goal. In business, you really understand people and society since you have to sell your stuff to people and negotiate with people. In business you are faced with the most diverse people since you have to deal with all kinds of people and thus you have the most diverse, dramatic, concrete and rich experience. In business, it is highly demanded that you can see through the truth. Business makes people communicate with each other since they have to exchange goods. In business, you have to make many very important decisions through which you establish your self-identity by the decisions you have made since you have to choose what kind of person you wan to be. Isn’t that what liberal arts folks are talking about?
In business, you have the chance to ask many important questions about life and society. In school, you will never ask yourself those questions and think them through. These questions are very important for a person’s life. In business, because you are faced with the real life and real challenge, you have to ask yourself those questions.
Using the term in Activity Theory of learning theory, business serves the role of activity for liberal arts. Liberal arts people often lack practice. They study a lot of things. But their ideas get quite messy. They often have very conflicting ideas. They don’t know what really work in society. They are often trapped in ideas, and thus unconsciously forget they should try hard in society. What they have are just merely ideas, which are often useless if out of touch of society. Actually business stuff is what the liberal arts talk about. For example, humanity in liberal arts is to understand people. Well, business is the best way to understand people. A lot of learning goals in liberal arts can be best achieved through business activities. For example, doing business is the best way to learn English, the real English. Doing business is also the best way to understand society and thus sociology. Business and finance bring people closer and thus people understand more of each other. In this way, business and finance are very important in shaping the modern society. So from liberal arts’ concerns regarding human being’s living conditions in history, business and finance are the things you have to know in order to understand modern society.
In the context of learning theory, business dramatically increases knowledge retention of learning. Doing business also arms you with the ability to see the whole thing from just local evidence. It trains you to have a very good intuition. Learning business first can be very timesaving.
Business is the practice. Practice is intensive, detail oriented and operational. Thus it is also confined to a certain time and space. You only know people in a certain area and your present time. Liberal arts can make you go beyond such confinement to interact with people in other countries and cultures and people in history. Any way, we human being, no matter where on this planet and no matter when in our history, we are almost faced with the same questions and dilemmas. By raising your eyes to the concerns of the whole human beings, you get yourself out of the greedy profit-driven money-making machine you might have turned yourself into when doing business. You understand your position in history and thus commit yourself to doing the “right” business that addresses the concerns of all human beings.
But for all generations on this planet, although all are faced with the same questions and all have tried their best, I believe the modern society is the best we can ever have in history. A lot of it is due to the accumulated collective wisdom of human being through history. A lot of it is due to the advancement of technology. Advancement of technology breaks all the natural confinement of the world and thus life can be more freely formed–this is a quite deep topic, and I won’t go into it here. Computer Science further builds up a virtual world that brings a lot of possibilities. I believe Computer Science will play a role that no other technology in human history can be compared to. In brief, it bridges the physical world and human world together.
Above I have said liberal arts people need business practice to clean up their messy ideas. They also need tech or scientific training to help them verify ideas and straight things up.
Of course tech people need liberal arts and business learning. Especially for computer science, it is not just about computer, it is more about people and life. To be excellent in CS, you not only need EE and Math, you also need strong liberal arts and business background. I have seen people with very good skills in C language struggling with the ideas of object oriented programming and writing code very difficult for other people to read.
From my own experience, my learning in any of them relies on each other and I really benefit tremendously from having a broad base in all of them. It saves me a lot of time. Sometimes I just wonder why people don’t see such clear benefits and don’t perceive the clear danger of lacking one of them.
I started my undergraduate study with a strong focus on my science and engineering study. One year later, after proving that tech study is not a difficult thing for me and I can easily excel in it, I decided that I need to focus on more important thing at that time: coming out of high school, I barely know society. Thus I spend quite a lot of time in liberal arts and business study. I tried various domains and learned things in all the possible ways of learning, utilizing all the available resources. (I was pushing the limits of my society thus I knew the invisible walls of it and had a clear feel what potential our society gave to each individual.) The early business practice had the biggest impact on my learning. It dramatically increased my knowledge retention, made me know what I wanted to learn and promoted me to work very hard. Having a broad coverage in liberal arts gave me a big picture of the whole thing. More intensive learning in tea culture, novel, music appreciation and etc opens the world of beauty to me. They gave me huge fun and at the same time opened me to many other fields. Actually business, liberal arts and tech had always been benefiting each other in my learning. But for about 3 years I mostly focused on liberal arts. Unlike US, there were not too many business opportunities for a college student in China. But I tried my best. After building up a quite good base in liberal arts and business, my strong focus on tech in my last year of study really brought me to a totally new level. I knew then CS was the thing I want to know everything about. Due to my strong liberal arts and business background I was very open and explorative in tech study and grasped things and built up the system very fast. I was studying on a very broad and deep level. In return, my tech study brought revolutionary effect on my liberal arts and business world. In fact, everything was getting connected and everything was progressing very fast. I progressed very fast, building up my world almost overnight. I enjoyed the greatest fun then. Everything was conducted on a very high level and my work was very efficient. I could accomplish the big three things within half a year: getting accepted by our graduate school, landing an ideal job and getting accepted by a graduate school in US. Abilities I have accumulated through the years were all playing out. For example, I only needed one night to finish writing my resume and one day for my thesis, and they were beautiful. It was very easy for me to put words together. And I enjoyed the culture very much and at the same time contributed to the culture, having a lot of funs of life and enjoying the fun with my friends. I was also more involved in society, taking up my role in society since my ability increased so much. At that time, my creation was endless. I really didn’t know how it could end. Everyday, just a lot of fun ideas came to me. I really enjoyed playing with culture, friends and tech, and being in intimate touch with society. I felt free at that time. It was like going home, but a home I had never been. I felt that was the real complete me. It was then I said there were only three things for me to do in my life: grow, have fun and create.
Then I came to the states. Here I lost my culture. Gone with it were my memory and my learning. I knew from beginning I had to learn the American and western culture as soon as I can through my liberal arts and business study here. My tasks and opportunities in the states, however, didn’t allow me to spend much time on it. Especially these years of very intensive learning on CS and elearning took up almost all my time. I progressed greatly in CS and elearning. A quite huge accomplishment. But I felt, compared with my learning status in China, I should have progressed much faster. Especially at the end of these years, as I lost more and more my culture and my learning I had before, it became more difficult for me to progress in tech. Even writing a tech article took me a long time. I even went into a deep depression for several months. It was the liberal arts and business learning in this half year that saved me out of it. As I was progressing on liberal arts and business in the context of American society, my lost memory was gradually coming back to me. I found I was lost for so long. I surely still have a lot of things to learn about American culture and I am expecting a much bigger breakthrough soon than the one I had in China.
In general, if you can, I would recommend learning in the order of business, liberal arts and tech. Of course, they are always quite intertwined. But in general it is best to be in that order.
Actually more accurately, I am just learning whatever I feel I need to learn.
So you can see we cannot just learn one thing. You have to know all of them if you want to achieve excellence. They are so closely related to each other. This is the true face of life. Things are connected, not in any deterministic way. Elearning, in my view, will bring free learning to people and make it easier for them to accomplish such learning in a shorter time, thus better prepare them to survive and pursue happiness in the modern society. A society full of such citizens is full of potential and creativity.