Training Or Education?

I have argued this topic before, but it bears repeating in light of an excellent comment making the rounds on Facebook. The comment was made by Chris Hedges, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and frequent contributor to the New York Times, among other major papers. His comment, in part, reminds us that “We’ve bought into the idea that education should be about training and ‘success’ defined monetarily rather than learning to think critically and to challenge. We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers…” I couldn’t agree more.

Bearing in mind that education begins in the home with parents who have time for their children and are eager to see them learn, there are a number of things wrong with the direction American education has taken since the 1940s at least. We have bought into the progressive education fiction that teaching is about the kids when it is supposed to be about what the kids learn. Robert Hutchins and John Dewey fought over this issue for years and Dewey’s child-centered system of education won the day. But Dewey soon left Columbia Teachers College after his triumph and washed his hands of the whole thing: he didn’t like the way his ideas were being misrepresented by his “supporters.” Educators have further watered down Dewey’s ideas of “child-centered” education.

We like to think that we have placed the kids first when in fact they are forgotten in the jargon-filled nonsense about entitlement and self-esteem. Kids are told they are wonderful just because they breathe in and out, whether or not they have actually done anything worthy of praise. They know this is a lie: they sense lies the way a squirrel senses where the nut is hidden. And they are handed the keys to the educational kingdom rather than having to work for them, forgetting that those things that come too easily are really not worth having — while the nonsense about entitlement leads to rampant grade inflation and passing along kids who have learned nothing. Real learning takes effort and that effort is rewarded by a sense of accomplishment that becomes inner satisfaction and requires no pat on the head. And the subject matter that is learned is of central importance.

But Hedges has his finger on the single most dangerous mistake we have made in recent years: we have confused education with job training. It started in the 1950s when the educational establishment was concerned that drop-out rates were climbing dangerously and needed to be stopped. They did research and discovered that high school and especially college graduates made more money in their lifetimes than did those who dropped out of school. So the marketing machine was set in motion and the theme was developed that kids should stay in school in order to be successful — monetarily, as Hedges says (the terms we have decided are the only ones by which success can be measured). Big Mistake! Education is not about jobs or making money. It is about putting kids in possession of their own minds, helping them to achieve true freedom, the ability to think for themselves, separate truth from nonsense, and not to suffer fools. These are the critical skills Hedges mentions and he couldn’t be more right.

The current presidential contest reveals the consequences of this sort of confusion. Instead of dealing with the major issues facing this country and this planet, about which we hear practically nothing, we are focused instead in “jobs and the economy” as though these things are the only things that matter. But a society made up of miseducated people who have been trained to work and not to think can easily be duped into swallowing this line of nonsense — without even knowing what they have ingested.

What matters are not the jobs and the economy in the end. What matters is the survival of human beings on a planet under siege by corporate greed and a business mentality that has convinced us that money is the only thing that really matters and is solidly behind the misperception that education is all about job training. As Hedges goes on to conclude, “A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.” Amen to that!

16 thoughts on “Training Or Education?

  1. Amen!

    Don’t forget the occasional teachers and schools who try to do the right thing, who hold students accountable and demand performance. The few cases I have first-hand knowledge of were ultimately defeated by helicopter parents who demanded not only their little Johnny be pushed through, but that he be given a high grade as well. I recall a specific case of a few years back of Johnny cheating on his final exam, admitting he cheated, the teacher having the proof and failed him, the principal supporting the teacher, and a parent with a loud lawyer and weak school board overruling the failing grade, the principal being reassigned, all because Johnny might not be able to get into the college of his choice.

    What message was sent to the teacher(s), principals, other students, other parents, and most importantly, little Johnny?

    Personally? The failures of today’s education begins and ends at home with the parents. Race To The Top, No Child Left Behind, and a thousand other programs would not be required nor ever have been considered if Mommy and Daddy were doing their job and taking their responsibility for their children seriously.

    • I agree. I think I mentioned that it starts at home. Clearly it does. But we need to do more to attract good teachers. There are a lot of losers out there. I know, I worked with many at the collegiate level as well.


  2. You two sound like a bunch of Pinko Commies.

    Capitalism depends upon people consuming stuff and chasing the dollar. There is no “thinking” in Capitalism! I read yesterday that 50,000 starve to death every 24 hours on this planet of ours and that we must produce, in the next 40 years, the same amount of food we did in the past 8,000 years to just keep us all fed at this level.

    Is it any wonder everybody is functioning under one reality denial scheme or another?

    My advice is have a good time while you have the time.

    As hard as it is to take, I conclude that we are a failed experiment in evolution. Big brains aren’t all they are cracked up to be. Since pure intelligence and an objective appraisal of the human condition leads to existential angst and terror it must be alloyed with paranormal beliefs. We must “remake” reality to fit our needs. That’s a nice way of saying we are highly suggestible, and addicted, and totally dependent on bullshit, nonsense and balderdash. We “believe” our reality into being.

    The problem is no two of us believe exactly the same thing and since you don’t believe what I do you are, simply by existing, a threat to my security. Overpopulation makes this a death sentence sooner or later.

    So, have a nice day.
    Mrs. N.

    • Your comments are always an interesting blend of valuable insights and bullshit. If “no two of us believe exactly the same thing” and we all made our world out to be what we “want” it to be we would be unable to communicate with one another. However, in spite of the fact that I disagree with you much of the time I usually understand what you are trying to say….as we say. But I do appreciate your comments — always!


      • …” If “no two of us believe exactly the same thing” and we all made our world out to be what we “want” it to be we would be unable to communicate with one another.”…

        How well do you see people of the world communicating? People in this country?

      • Oh come on! There’s a great deal of confusion and people do tend to delude themselves about things they fear. But we recognize it as delusion because it is out of the ordinary and we communicate with one another more often than we miss connections! Beware of half-truths!


      • This is great! We have a genuine philosophical problem here. Unfortunately we cannot go too deepely into it in a blog. But I would say that “ordinary” means “normal,” and implies a social norm that allows us to identify delusion (among other things). We all construct our own sense of reality, I agree, but we do so in mainly the same way — or close enough to allow us to talk about the “same” world. We recognize variations from the norm and while it is somewhat arbitrary, it allows us to function as a more or less cohesive group. The fact that I can disagree with you and yet still know what you are saying implies that we do, in fact, communicate. Having said that I will stop and get back to something more important.


      • Come on yourself Hugh. …”But we recognize it as delusion because it is out of the ordinary and we communicate with one another more often than we miss connections!”…

        I’m assuming that wasn’t meant to be funny, but, let me ask a few questions, just to be sure. If everybody believes in witches is it delusional not to? Are you the one who gets to decide what is delusional, or, is it the other guy? Does the other person determine who is confused, or, do you? Just what is “the ordinary” and how do you know how much of anything was really communicated?

        Where I live “the ordinary” is a 6000 year old earth and our president is a Muslim. Perhaps you recognize that as a delusion. What I wouldn’t give to watch you “communicate” that and point out just who the “we” are who make up “the ordinary”. Just for my curiosity, will the ordinary people be voting for Obama or Romney? And the delusional?

      • “ordinary” means “normal”….. Deep.

        I don’t think you understand what I am saying at all Hugh, but, you have my word, I will never keep you from more important things with my “bullshit” again.

  3. Great post. What is also missing in job training skllls is a key part of your message – teaching people to think. In the broadest context, I agree wholeheartedly we need people to understand the holistic world we live in and how things relate to each other. In the specific context to job training, there is so much data out there today which is readily accessible to anyone who has a search engine. Yet, as a manager and former supervisor of people, what we are greatly lacking is people who can interpret and analyze data. To give a quick example, you can take a graph of the same data and change the horizontal or vertical increments and convey an entirely different message. Some can do this accidentally while others do it intentionally. The data points are the same, but you can sway opinion merely by changing the graph increments. Great post, as usual. BTG

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