Everyone from seminary students to tech school students complains that their education was not practical enough. This joins the growing chorus of folks who look at the high cost of university education, the degree inflation that seems to reduce the value of that education annually, and the growing term it seems to take for students to graduate and then wonder if it is worth it all. Not to mention the numbers of students who complain that their education is boring and the professors who complain their students are not motivated. It seems at all levels educators and students are saying that some students do not belong in college and would be better served by being given a more practical and useful training to help them get a job. Of course, businesses are also complaining that the schools are not preparing their students with an education practical enough to equip them with the workable and marketable skills that business and industry prize.
I have no doubt that all the common complaints are true. That said, I would also suggest the radical idea that education exists to do something more noble than help people find a job and make a buck. If that is all that we are looking to accomplish in high schools, trade schools, colleges, and universities, then it is no longer worthy of being called an education.
Just because an individual will work on a factory line somewhere or ends up picking up garbage or cleaning up our messes or fixing our plumbing or wiring problems does not mean that this person is unworthy of an education and deserves to be ignorant. In fact, just the opposite. Life, culture, democracy, and vocation expects and, I believe, demands education. The farm worker joins the university professor and lawyer and MBA in making critical judgements, casting ballots, serving the community, and raising children (arguably the most important of all). We live in a complex world of news and fake news, of conflicting opinions about what is good and right for us as a society, of truth and falsehood in religion, and so many more critical issues. Everyone needs more than technical training but a good and well-rounded education in history, literature, math, science, and the arts.
Education is not merely the impartation of life skills appreciated in the marketplace and translatable into dollars and cents Education has classically involved the larger questions of life -- where did I come from, who am I here, and how then shall I live. It is not the domain of the new and novel but the familiarity with the old that gives us help in answering these vexing questions. Part of our modern problem is not only that education is treated as entertainment (hence the complaint that it is boring) but also that it has no real value greater than a job and a pay check.
Mothers and fathers need to be able to read to their children both for fun and information and to help them learn to love reading. It is not primarily a self-serving task ($ and a job) but to open up the minds of their children and to open them up to a world larger than the moment, more than what they can observe for themselves, and deeper than the feelings and whims of that moment. Husbands and wives cast ballots for the common good of society and for those who lead our government at all levels and so far, at least, ballots are not restricted to those who pay attention to history, civics class, and morality. This privilege is not reserved for those with the greatest education nor should it be but that does not mean that democracy works when education is treated merely as preparation for work.
Once, all those in school were required to master basic competence in such areas as literature and communication, in reading and writing, in history and the arts, and in math and science. The high school I attended did not distinguish between those headed for trade schools and universities. Not all of them got As or Bs but then that was when a C still meant competence. Once the masses were expected to read something more than the comics and advice columnists. When I look back at curriculums for eighth grade students a hundred years ago I begin to understand why we have allowed the media to tell us what to think and to judge candidates by a 30 second soundbite.
So whether you will end up working on the engine of my car or as a physician to heal my body or somewhere in between, education is essential. Doctors are not trained for one specific illness or procedure but are required to master a general medical competency before specializing. My father was an electrician and plumber but he was well read and came by his opinions after investigating the options. As true and necessary as this is for the world, it is even more essential in the church. Our itching ears naturally lead us astray from the pattern of sound doctrine of which St. Paul spoke but we need not encourage it by failing to know doctrine and the catechism and to be unfamiliar with the voice of the Good Shepherd in His Word. No, education is needed for all no matter where or how you end up and earn a living. This was Luther's plea for general education and its cause has not diminished in our age either.