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Image from Pexels

At least in the American education system, there remains an unquestioned and unwarranted deep division between mental and manual labor and learning. You either go to college for a liberal arts degree or directed program leading to a profession in business, medicine, engineering, law, or otherwise “intellectual” discipline, or enter a trade or technical school in order to be equipped with the hard, practical knowledge of a specific industry. Very rarely is there a third option combining the two since we have arbitrarily separated them from each other without any chance of reconciliation.

Automatically this division presents a problem. The artificial division lends itself to a similarly artificial stratification of professions–namely that the intellectual pursuits are somehow more desirable than forms of manual labor (from farming to construction). Though the implied hierarchy is not openly admitted to by anyone working within the system, it is evident in interactions between the groups (read how an Ivy League grad can’t figure out how to talk to his plumber) as well as in the undeniable stigma associated with choosing not to go to college.

We are rooted in the idea that manual labor is undesirable and should be replaced with technology and leisure time whenever possible–and that for some reason a liberal arts education need not include integral components of art, farming, carpentry, etc. The irony of this faulty conviction is that the intellectually elite spend much of their free time exercising in carved out spaces and taking up the crafts of labor pursuits upon retirement. Of course this amounts to admitting the fruits and benefits of physical exertion and being able to see the products of one’s effort–so why do we only appreciate and value these pursuits when they occupy free time? Why aren’t these integral components of a flourishing human life granted from the beginning? Why do separate mental and physical labor? Intellectual and manual exercise?

A reorientation of the education system needs to make this proclamation–that education is for the development of the whole individual and the whole society, not for the betterment of career prospects. Technical schools are restricted from experiencing a rounded-out liberal arts education in tangent with their trade tutelage, and the various labor pursuits from agriculture to electrical are ruled out in the beginning from a four-year professional or liberal arts curriculum for the same reasons: a Great Books seminar is deemed unnecessary for an electrician to electrical work and woodwork is deemed unnecessary for a doctor to practice medicine or a manager to make business decisions. When they are able to get a commercial electrician in they will have electricianperth come look at the electrical work that needs to be done. The university and the trade school–the American education system–is so caught up in pumping out productive, working members of society that career is trumped over personal development and imperative facets of a truly whole education are ripped out from the foundations of both segments.

A combined pursuit of Humanities and HVAC should neither be viewed as impossible nor wasteful. Unfortunately there are extremely limiting pickings for someone aiming to combine disciplines in such a way described above. All you need to do is a quick Google search to find that the conversation is constantly pitted “technical versus liberal arts: what’s better?” or “STEM or Humanities: what should you choose?” People can struggle to make it work–such as a friend of mine who fought to double major across both the engineering and liberal arts schools at Villanova–but programs designed specifically to combine these crucial educational components are few and far between. The artificial division of labor and learning pervades the current system to no small degree–and will continue to do so until the career-driven education institutions cease to be upheld by frenzied students year after year. Perhaps the lasting call is simply this–calm down a bit, relax, and focus your educational decisions less on economics and more on the fuller development of personhood. In wholeness is implied a logical negation of artificial divisions.

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Eric Aldieri is a junior at Villanova University double majoring in Philosophy and Humanities. You can contact him at or @ealdi94 .

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