I sympathize with some of what Mark Oppenheimer says here, but take issue with more of it.
Heres a snippet:
Our students have lost the space in which to act with purpose, which I think of as narrow but deep attention, not quite obsession but a healthier version of it. The ideal is now versatility, four years of learned attention deficit disorder (except in sports, where the three-sport dilettante has been replaced by the highly directed thoroughbred one-sport stud). As activities have multiplied, the curriculum has diversified, which is both a cause and an effect. Choosing from a menu of activities – academics, sports, student government, community service, etc. – students spend less time on academics, and what time they do spend is forcibly divided among various disciplines or “distribution groups.”
Yes, our students often behave as if they have attention deficit disorder, but the culprit is not the requirement that they be liberally educated as well as specialized. Oppenheimers strictures apply to cafeteria-style distribution requirements that have no organizing principle for any student other than scheduling convenience, the relative easiness of the material, or the popularity of the professor.
Katie Newmark is right when she observes about her own experience that
Dukes gen ed requirements, which the students pejoratively refer to as "The Matrix," are designed to give students breadth of knowledge. But many people regard The Matrix as a burden; they look for the easiest classes that will fulfill the requirements, taking them not out of intellectual curiosity but just to meet the requirement, and they dont take these Matrix classes seriously.
But students can come to appreciate a coherent core curriculum, where they achieve depth over time, amounting to what we at Oglethorpe sometimes call "a second major." Yes, an intellectually serious experience of specialization is a good thing, but by itself--without the perspective afforded by a coherent, genuinely liberal education--it is stultifying, illiberal, and ultimately subject to the kind of lampooning Nietzsche offers in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, where he describes Zarathustras encounter with the man who is an expert on the brain of the leech.