The fallacy of the renaissance college eduction

I got my BA degree from UC San Diego. The University is divided into a number of colleges, each of which has different graduation requirements. One of these colleges is named Revelle, after Roger Revelle, a professor and founder of UC San Diego. UC San Diego, since its founding, has been heavily oriented toward the sciences. But Roger Revelle had the idea that scientists should be Renaissance men and women. They would have a broad breath of education that would encompass the humanities and the sciences. As I've gotten older I have come to believe more and more that Revelle was a idiot. Compared to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, human knowledge during the Renaissance was miniscule. Although the printing press allowed wider access to books in the renaissance, books were still fantasticly expensive. Movement of people and knowledge was slow. If you were lucky enough to have the wealth support free time, the purchase of books and travel to talk to others, you could master most of human knowledge. You could be an expert in physics, chemistry (which was mostly alchemy), biology, medicine, philosophy and history since so little was known and there were so few written works to master.

By the time UC San Diego's Revelle college was founded few people could be expert in more than one narrow field, regardless of how much wealth and free time they had. At most the renaissance education offered by Revelle College could give the student a brief exposure to several areas of human knowledge. Even as a high school student I did not buy into Revelle's idea of the renaissance college eduction. I went to another college at UCSD, named after John Muir, where I could spend most of my time in studying math and science without the futile distraction of trying to become a renaissance man. It is hard to learn calculus, linear algebra or organic chemistry on your own (although in the case of Linear Algebra, I've been doing this). College is a great place to master these skills. I read widely and I have the rest of my life to read literature, history and current events.

Ian Kaplan

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