Specialized Education versus General Liberal Education

Specialized Education versus General Liberal Education

Education is a significant phenomenon that dictates our life goals. It is the process of gaining knowledge over a period of time through direction and learning. Education plays a key role in the expansion of knowledge and skill development, and contributes to a person’s confidence, personality, cognitive development, social growth, and performance of activities, because of that the importance of education cannot be denied at any level as it is the process through which a person learns about him/her and its environments. In addition, thanks to the education a person might have a better understanding of nature with respect to science. Information about any concept and education are two different concepts that may differ in terms of formal acquisition and delivery. The two concepts hold distinction as education plays a key role in the expansion of knowledge and skill development. Through learning people get knowledge and skills, and observation of nature are all parts of education. These are effective tasks and helps in understanding the backgrounds of an individual. Knowledge is not the only tool required but as well combination of knowledge and efficiency is required which is accomplished by education. New phenomena are discovered if a person has a complete understanding and knowledge about what, when and how the process is being accomplished. According to Lorig and Holmes (2003) these all tasks are achieved by education which is the reason that all the policies and programs of government and private organizations focus on the provision of basic facilities of education.

The purpose of this paper is to discuss the two types of educational formats, liberal education and specialized education, and my position supporting specialized education as opposed to general liberal education.

General Liberal Education:

General liberal education at the student level is also know as liberal arts concentration (Blank add year) is the most extensive form of delivering knowledge, and refers to education which allows human beings to deal with the intricacy, diversity and change of the world and its emerging consequences. This is related to the knowledge of major fields or sections including science, humanity, society, and culture in which the student might take some courses about different things for example, writing and chemistry. According to Black (year) “Most four-year colleges and universities offer a liberal arts curriculum as either a major portion or all their available coursework” (pg). Those who possess knowledge pertaining to these elements, gain the ability to cope with changing environments and the complex nature of life. The main objectives of liberal education according to Pring (2005) are:

Liberal education is focused towards the provision of comprehensive knowledge in all the major aspects of learning which includes physical environment, social functions, and humanities for understanding of an individual’s own self and behavior for self recognition.

Liberal education develops, in a person, the ability to perform a task efficiently and effectively through the use of skill, integration and interpretation of nature and its relationship to human beings.

Liberal education allows individuals to enhance or imply their knowledge to other fields or phenomena after the accomplishment of perception of physical and social aspects.

These three objectives provide a detailed analysis of the elements required by an individual to completely understand their surroundings. Education is a tool through which our sense of awareness is developed and intellectual and cognitive performance is sharpened. The concept of liberal education has been evolving in our current society, because now university students have the option to even finish their degree in general studies. Mortimer Adler a philosopher and educator believes that a general education was the best training for both life and work, arguing that “it gives students the skills to be better citizen and better people” (pg). In addition, he states that liberal education can give the students the tools such as writing and critical thinking that might works and be valuable in any field of workplace.

Upon completion of their educations, College and university students directly contribute toward the viability of a nation, through formulating the future and characterizing its goals. Publically speaking, Democratic states are widening the spectrum of thought, in order to facilitate future generations to have more control of their personal educational goals. Allowing students to make appropriate educational decisions, characterizes their future toward meeting the current demands and requirements of life. We see greater emphasis on post secondary and graduate education, because a society with a deficit of educated citizens ceases to maximize its potential and global acceptance among other nations. The population of a society must proportionately contribute toward its ongoing growth the development. Employing manpower to facilitate the necessary functions within a society is achieved by promoting educational opportunities that are in line with current labor market statistics. Creating awareness assists students in the process of making educational decisions that meet their interests, and improve their future. Another important aspect related to liberal education, is that it combines many aspects of life in general, such as our experience, cultural beliefs, perceptions, etc. |These aspects of life are relatively ambiguous in nature, open to thought and opinion, subjective, as opposed to concrete facts. A Liberal education serves to open up the mind and look deeper into other dimensions of possibility, and overall perspectives of life. “It cultivates the capacities and appetite for self-expression and reflection, for exchange and debate of ideas, for life-long learning, and for dealing with problems for which there are no easy answers” (APA)

Historically, liberal arts subjects or skills were considered vital for citizens to possess in order to actively participate in civic life, public debate, and military service. The purpose of these studies was to create moral, knowledgeable, and eloquent people. Further, Grammar, rhetoric and logic were regarded as the primary liberal arts. Even by today’s standards, “liberal education is described as “enlightenment” education, for the purpose of communication liberal arts to every person. Therefore, liberal education serves every person for meeting their intellectual needs” (Butin, 2006). This concept at the end for me might not be such a good idea since the student does not have proper skills for the workplace, since they are not specializing in any field of career such as medicine or law for mention some.

Specialized Education-Adult Career-Based

Specialized education is a course of studies that generally focus on a specific area. Although specialized education can work in conjunction with liberal education in certain cases, for example; a Physician begins with liberal education, followed by specialized education. I will examine how specialized education functions independently as a method which focuses on a specific subject, with the main emphasis geared toward training and preparing students for the workplace; also referred to as providing “Job-ready skills”. It is available to those who are certain about their career/profession choice. Traditionally, Vocational schools utilized specialized education to teach industry related skills and trades. Today, specialized education has grown enormously due to great demand derive from two critical issues:

To educate students in careers, specifically designed to accommodate current/forecasted economic, labor and industry statistics.

To address the growing social ramifications caused by an unstable and changing economy. Whether due to job loss through downsizing, or needing to re-enter the workforce after a lengthy absence, many people will need to learn a new profession, or at the very least, upgrade their skills significantly for any chance of acquiring relatively secure employment.

This type of education involves a condensed, structured course of study, which often includes a co-op or other work-based experience as part of the program. The Instructors are primarily industry-specific professionals with a vast amount of relative knowledge and experience. Specialized education programs also give the student an advantage in the job market, since many of the programs are specifically developed for the purpose of addressing current market need. People are finding that they need to remain in the workforce past retirement age, but must due to the condensed format of many Specialized education programs, they can be ideal for a student who wishes to change careers, without having to make a lengthy time commitment. As Blank said “it is generally easier to make the transition from a general to a specialized than vice versa and” As for my experience I prefer the specialized education because at least you are specializing in a particular area rather than taking many different courses.

A huge majority of those who argue for general or liberal education argue that it prepares an individual for further on job training and ensures that the individual is well primed to learn from experience. Further, such proponents argue that whereas it is difficult to acquire general knowledge from a situation in which one has specialized knowledge, it is quite easy for an individual with general knowledge to actually acquire specialized knowledge. As such, the flexibility one gains through gaining general knowledge is invaluable, as it allows for a greater degree of dynamism, in a world where not only is knowledge evolving, but its application is evolving as well. Arnold (2010) highlights the current shift by a number of institutions of higher learning are moving towards liberal education, by offering knowledge which they argue increases intellectual awareness, improves communication skills, breadth of learning as well as critical thinking.

General education programs are however not the answer, as they are in most cases burdened with a number of fatal flaws, which Arnold (2010) claims makes them the wrong repository within which to bank hopes of educating students liberally. His first argument against general education, is the fact that in most cases they are simply a menu of courses usually selected with no consideration for intellectual cohesion, while in cases where that is not the case, students will ideally be required to have some prior knowledge that will ensure the starting point is a common one. This is often not the case, as students will probably arrive at an institution with different forms of academic preparation and experiences. When issues such as transfers in and transfers out, as well as the financial pressures that may accompany facilitating large lectures in general education, it is quite clear that general courses may not really be the best. Furthermore, Arnold (2010) argues that whereas proponents of general course may argue that it fosters critical thinking, reflection and exploration, this is not the case, with perhaps even the opposite premise holding true. In order for true learning to take place, the interests of those being taught and those teaching, must be in tandem, although the usage of disciplinary specialists to tutor students on the various disciplines goes against this belief.

In a way, according to Arnold, the greatest flaw in the attempts to achieve liberal education, is the attempt to separate the major from liberal education, while at the same time broadening the students’ perspectives, awareness as well as critical thinking. He calls for the inclusion of liberal education into various majors, by making it a mandatory unit within the different majors being offered by the university. The author also recommends that every major should include certain aspects of general education, foremost among them being the provision of a course on problem formulation, as well as the various methods and approaches to inquiry as employed within the discipline. Secondly, Arnold (2010) suggests the incorporation of interdisciplinary seminars within training programs for the specialized education, would act as a very important step towards the realization of incorporating and intertwining the major the student is training in, to other courses. This would give the student a unique perspective on the standing of the major they are studying and how it relates to other courses. Finally, the author suggests that in order for the hybrid system of general and specialized education to work, a system that encourages continuous self assessment and self evaluation should form an important pillar of such training. Arnold cites the example of training within health sciences in which one foot is kept outside the classroom, allowing students to learn new theories and revert back to testing the validity of these theories within the clinical setting. Overall therefore Arnold (2010) argues that both specialized and general knowledge are important in the development and education of proper and competent professionals, as combining both would ensure that students develop essential critical thinking skills, unparalleled competence when it comes to context setting, as all these aspects of general education would be embedded within the major.

Axelrod, Anisef and Zeng (2001) agree with the assertion that liberal education might not be the answer most academic institutions believe it to be. They argue that whereas liberal education does have its advantages, it forms an important basis upon which evidence based training can be practiced. The authors argue that through the employment of the scientific method, liberal education provides a basis for the training of specialists and the discovery of new knowledge. The authors therefore, similar to Arnold (2010) acknowledge that while liberal knowledge can be important, the role of specialized education must not be overlooked at all. More so considering that simply training students based on general knowledge may ill equip them when it comes to meeting demands unique to their profession. This lack of specialized training, in a way hampered students when it came to fulfilling their professional obligations as found by cohort studies carried out by Axelrod, Anisef and Zeng (2001). The findings clearly demonstrated that in certain courses liberal training cannot form the only theoretical basis for practice, more so within health related fields. Within a majority of other fields, such as fine arts, training through liberal education was found to significantly improve the student’s profile. This suggests that even though liberal education may not adequately prepare students for the needs of the market, it does still have a role to play in the training of professionals and individuals sensitive to the demands of not just their professional tasks, but also of the needs of the community.

Specialized education does prepare professionals adequately for their job demands, as training is done based on best practices developed through research. Knowledge of such evidence based practices ensures that students are well prepared to forecast, plan for and deal with problems that might arise (Roundtable, 2006). Further, specialized education in most cases, usually equips students with practical skills that ensure they are ready for work, and deployment into the job market. For instance, medical training equips doctors with the necessary skills utilized in assessing and diagnosing patients.

Specialized educational programs are also more cost effective because they essentially require less time to complete, and also require fewer resources to offer, in that, unlike general education, special education does not entail large lectures which are difficult to facilitate. The period between completion of training and resumption or beginning of work is also much shorter with specialized education.


This paper therefore, attempts to justify the assertion that specialized education is better compared to liberal education, as it enables one to gain an understanding about human nature. The life circumstances of the student are likely to be the biggest influence on the choice between general and specialized education. Liberal education enhances one’s skills whereas special education trains an individual to perform routine tasks and fulfill basic needs. Further, the review of certain literature has essentially introduced a different aspect to the debate. Whereas a majority of the arguments may take the form of which is preferable, it is perhaps worthy of noting that despite the obvious superiority of specialized education, there are obvious advantages of liberal training. The first of them is the obvious fact that it improves the student’s critical thinking as well as problem solving skills. It also equips the student with the necessary knowledge to be able to interact adequately with their environment, which immensely aids in the identification of potential or real problems. When this is combined with the benefits of specialized education as aforementioned, the end result is a candidate who is not only capable of identifying potential problems, but one capable of solving these problems in a timely and professional manner. Suggestions that liberal education be incorporated into specialized training are therefore worth exploring, although if one had to chose between the two forms of education, specialized education would definitely be the best pick.


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HYPERLINK “http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/specialed/ppandg.htm”http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/specialed/ppandg.htm

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Roundtable (2006). Education Vs. Experience. Fire Engineering

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