Editorial: The Demise of General Knowledge and its Social Consequences

IFSR Newsletter 1991 No. 1 (27)
Stephen Sokoloff
Stefan-Fechter Weg 1149
A-4020 Linz, Austria, Tel.: +43732 – 28 16 805
Currently we are witnessing a pronounced tendency to emphasize highly specialized instruction and neglect general education. This can even be seen at systems science conferences, where most of the time is devoted to special groups. I consider this trend unfortunate; out of common shared knowledge the social fabric is woven, the deterioration of which leads to moral and cultural atrophy, loss of a sense of meaning and an increase in mental health problems.
By no means do I intend to deny the importance of specialized training. lt is a prerequisite for the maintenance of high-level services in various professional areas. No single person could possibly absorb all the knowledge and accumulate all the experience necessary for competence in such diverse fields as heart surgery, nuclear physics, diplomacy, automobile mechanics and baking.
Common knowledge is, however, no less essential. Perhaps one reason why general education has fallen into disrepute is the obscurity and uselessness of much of school learning. What sense does it make, for example, to drill adolescents in ancient languages when they don’t even know the essentials of birth control? ln my opinion, the general populace needs more education particularly in the following areas:

  • Those which are necessary for the intelligent appraisal of major political decisions, for example in the fields dealing with governmental processes, economics and environmental and social concerns;
  • maintaining good health;
  • modern languages;
  • practical psychology (understanding the various personality types, the problems that arise among colleagues at work and in partnership and marriage). The psychiatrist Carl Rogers demonstrated that merely confronting others with a certain pattern of behavior characterized by openness (frankness), empathy and complete acceptance diminishes their neuroses. Wouldn’t it be possible to teach this form of human interaction in the schools?
  • Culture in the broadest sense, that is not only the fine arts but also the understanding of “exotic” peoples, their ways of life and their beliefs. This kind of education would enable people to engage in high-quality and meaningful free time activities.
    Our lopsided, profiloriented educational attitudes have already led to serious consequences. We do find a good general availability of material products and specialized services in industrialized capitalist nations, but the social fabric in many of these countries is in tatters. There is a high rate of broken families, and discontent, mental health problems and criminality are rampant. Better general education could help to alleviate these conditions.

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