Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Second thoughts about a practical education. . . 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.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

In my view, American public education has not met the problem of illiteracy in a viable way. It was highjacked by liberal scholars with a socio-political agenda long ago. For example, we can teach students how to read and write, and we can teach arithmetic and science, but the system does not spend enough time in areas like world history, American history, and geography. Even many so called educated Americans today are absolutely ignorant of our Constitution, the way Congress works, and the history of their own land and people. Once, when I was young, schools educated students in geography as a separate subject, which opened our eyes to the development of nations, their boundaries and resources. A strong working knowledge of history enables people to think about our place and time, and one begins to understand our relationship to the past. I believe today many students are ignorant in these areas, and it affects their understanding of the issues. In the area of the church, and even in Lutheran history, an effort should be made to teach these subjects to adult and youth alike, separate from Bible classes, but integral to the education and wholeness of Lutheranism.

Ted Badje said...

Hopefully, the professors are teaching the seminarians how to teach Confirmation to their students. It is needed now more than ever.