UPDATED: Is ‘Multidisciplinary’ the Academic Equivalent of ‘Multiculturalism’?

Ancient History,Education,Free Markets,Human Accomplishment,Left-Liberalism,Multiculturalism,Propaganda,The West

Looking over the impressive resume and interests of an academic—an acquaintance of a friend— in the applied sciences, the following occurred to me: In the world of the boffins and scientists of research and development (R&D), “multidisciplinary” education is the equivalent of “multiculturalism.”

“Multidisciplinary” education seems to be the buzzword—key to showing how “relevant” and contextualized you and your field of endeavor really are in a hip and evolving world.

My suspicion was reinforced while watching a C-Span segment in which a leading female head of department at MIT engineering waxed fat about what fun she was having designing “work spaces” that “brought together” just about every other department in the world (social work, education).

The aim of all the fun? Coaxing America’s lazy kids into thinking of science and math as fun. (A better, more-sustainable approach would be to teach America’s already dumbed-down, increasingly dispensable secondary-school students that most things worth learning are never plain fun, but are a function of effort and practice, i.e. a good deal of rote. The fun comes when the tough stuff has been mastered.)

Naturally, engineer and physician will collaborate in the design of a prosthetic limb. But the trend observed goes beyond preaching about practical cooperation in bringing beneficial products to markets, something that already occurs spontaneously in the market.

Like “multiculturalism,” the “multidisciplinary” concept is an ideological construct designed to bring about “change.”

What kind of change?

“Intellectual disciplines,” historian Keith Windschuttle has written, “were founded in ancient Greece and gained considerable impetus from the work of Aristotle who identified and organized a range of subjects into orderly bodies of learning. … The history of Western knowledge shows the decisive importance of the structuring of disciplines. This structuring allowed the West to benefit from two key innovations: the systematization of research methods, which produced an accretion of consistent findings; and the organization of effective teaching, which permitted a large and accumulating body of knowledge to be transmitted from one generation to the next.” (The Killing of History, Keith Windschuttle, Encounter, pp. 247-250)

The concept of the intellectual discipline is inseparable from Western canon and curriculum.

Yet this has been the aim—and, arguably, the signal achievement—of the postmodern tradition: to completely dismantle one of the greatest achievements of Western Civilization: the intellectual discipline. (This is why your fun-addicted kids “study” not history, but so-called “social sciences” or “cultural studies” in secondary and tertiary educational institutions.)

Is “Multidisciplinary” yet another one of those clever catchphrases that couches a contempt for the traditional Western notion of an intellectual disciplines?

UPDATE (Aug. 30): CHINA. I’m always amazed that Americans would call China militant, when it is the US that is starting and conducting wars all over the world. Our esteemed reader below sounds a little like Donald Trump, which is not a good thing.

7 thoughts on “UPDATED: Is ‘Multidisciplinary’ the Academic Equivalent of ‘Multiculturalism’?

  1. Troy Camplin

    There are actually three different things: multidisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity, and interdisciplinarity. The first one is really a hodgepodge and considers all disciplines to be of equal value and on equal footing (and is very pomo for that). The second one attempts to bring all disciplines under one world view (such as Marxism). The last one recognizes the continued importance of the disciplines, yet attempts to build bridges among the disciplines (one has to have the former to do the latter). Interdisciplinarity requires an understanding of the relationshi ps among the disciplines quantum physics underlies chemistry, organic chemistry underlies biology, biology underlies pschology, psychology underlies economics, sociology, and the arts and humanities.

  2. Michael Marks

    My best friend in college got a
    “Multidisciplinary” education the old fashioned way; he double majored in physics and Computer Science. He then got a MS in Physics. Studying Computer Science and Physics allowed him to use his computer skills to solve interesting problems in Physcis.

    I took a little different approach but it was a means to a similar end. My Bachelors Degree is in Electrical Engineering and my Masters Degree is in Mathematics. I did this because I knew I was going to be designing and analyzing control systems. Speaking the language of mathematics, if you will, has allowed me to flow between the engineering sub-disciplines more easily.

    Clearly my good friend from college and I took a rahter rigorous approach to being mulitdisciplinary. It is also good to see how things integrate together instead of being “stove-piped” into a small area. However, it is not clear to me whether today’s academic “love affair” with multi-disciplinary programs is a good thing or not.

    The following comment may sound a little odd and maybe a little off topic but, I found in college that the first math that really made sense to me was Calculus. It seemed logical and natural to me. I don’t say this to brag because I was more surprised by this discovery than those who knew me.

  3. Myron Pauli

    I think you are really getting at “fad”ism and shoddy affirmative action in education – which I am completely in line with you.

    Multidisciplinary per se may be fine if scientifically rigorous (such as biomedical engineering – you example is quite apt). I am working on sensor fusion applications – since it may involve radar, optical, and acoustical systems working in tandem, it is arguably “multidisciplinary”.

    However, in terms of political correctness and showboating fads in academia – I could probably bend your ear for days on that and I have been out of the academic rat race for decades.

    As for so-called “elite” places like MIT, Harvard, etc,: (1) the suckups become “elite” by osmosis with the far smaller number of truly brilliant that are over there and (2) the media-academic complex is what does the labeling – hence it is “elite” because the “elite” state that it is!

  4. Gerhardt Goeken

    I’d have to say that a multidisciplinary approach to education comes necessarily only after students have mastered a bare minimum of the basics. Without intitial mastery or competence, the whole thing will fall apart.

  5. Tom

    Perhaps it is merely an attempt to widen the world view of engineering and hard science students, sometimes stereotyped as anti-social “nerds”. Perhaps it is an attempt to divert engineering and science students from seeking military applications, toward “green” or “peaceful” applications of their technical education. Perhaps it is part of the international conspiracy to eliminate the power of the United States. However, militant China probably already has the largest number of engineers in the world, and will probably someday seek to militarily completely dominate the United States and the world.

    [See post update.]

  6. Myron Pauli

    The Disneyfied Martin Luther King the neocons love is the one who helped to expand Federal powers. The one they do not talk about said 1 year before he died who said:

    “I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”


    Yes, China might militantly operate in its borders and neighborhood concerning Taiwan and Tibet and jail its own dissidents but is does not drop bombs on Bolivia or enforce embargoes against Belgium. Does Russia or China keep troops stationed all over the world? Do they have special ops forces fighting or deployed on multiple continents?

    We even have more people in jail than evil China does! What does that say about us??


  7. Tom

    Ilana, I should not be lumped together with Donald Trump, or with Neocons, merely because my view of militant totalitarian China may have some similarities to their view of China. Sharing some views, is not to suggest sharing all views. After all, I agree with some of your views, Ilana. And a further difference in my views: I believe the totalitarian United States Government orchestrated and conducted the 9-11 terrorist attacks, for its own geo-political reasons, which the Neocons probably promoted for the idea of world domination by their faction. In the global geo-politics, it is unfortunately Evil versus Evil.

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