Education vs. Training

The problems with modern American education are multifaceted. One could speak on the relation between education and poverty, race, socioeconomic status, but these are not the fatal flaw with American education. The flaw is in equating training with education.

This trend towards equating training is evident in the language used to describe what is being taught. We no longer teach “knowledge”, but rather “skills and competencies”. “Skills and competencies” is the language of the workplace, not the classroom. This language betrays the the fact that American companies, businesses and the government are not truly interested in having an educated workforce. They are interested in having a trained workforce.The recent push towards more and more STEM courses, degrees and programs is also evidence of this trend.

A fundamental and important distinction exists between education and training: education is concerned with acquiring knowledge, but training is concerned with acquiring knowledge only insofar as knowledge can be immediately applied towards creating a product (to earn the Almighty Dollar.) STEM programs and training are pressed upon America, because STEM knowledge can be applied much more quickly (and profitably) than the knowledge from the humanities and the arts. The government and businesses look at each field of study and see that a machine can make much more money than a novel or a piece of music or art. Thus, the economy and the government push for more machines. Incidentally, this also pushes for less art or music. It is interesting now that private schools advertise the fact that they have art or music programs, because as public funds have withered away, music and art programs have been the first victims of the budgetary guillotine. One is reminded of the scene in 1984  which the protagonist’s friend talks continually about their efforts to create more efficient words to get rid of these extra cumbersome words. Will our society sacrifice the humanities and the arts for the sake of efficiency and money? Will education be sacrificed for the sake of efficency and the Almighty Dollar?

This reveals an even more pernicious problem with this re-casting of education as training: money is the end of education. Acquiring knowledge for its own sake is seen as a waste; why would we want to acquire knowledge unless that knowledge could be put to good use creating money? But this truncates the human person. Becoming educated is about more than money; it is about understanding the human person and the human experience. This is the value of music, literature, art. They sake to explain and understand the meaning of human existence. Training, rather than education, creates automatons which perform tasks well, rather than human beings who live well. An education without the humanities is an incomplete education just as an education without the natural sciences is an incomplete education. Our ancestors and forefathers knew this. The ancients knew this. The last vestige of this idea is found in the fact that at many college students are required (no matter their major) to take a class in the fine arts, a class (or two) of literature and perhaps a couple of foreign classes.

If the United States of America want to improve our education, we must begin to educate them, not just train them. We do not need to speak of what we can get out of our students, but rather what we can instill and teach our students. Training, as any person who has started a new job can confess, ends. You eventually are trained and can do the task you are assigned. Education does not end. It continues until our final breath passes our dying lips. If America cannot understand this distinction, our last breath has already been exhaled.

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Family Shepherding

Family shepherding has been on my mind much as of late, not least of all due to my reading Voddie Baucham Jr.’s Family Shepherds last week. Baucham makes some very clarifying and helpful statements regarding the roles of family and the church. The book is very practical and pastoral.

The primary thrust of his book is that the discipling, the spiritual and moral raising up of your children, is your responsibility. And this responsibility should be primarily shouldered by the father. Our culture is growing more and more hostile to the idea of being responsible, particularly in the area of parenting. More and more parents feel it is the job of the schools, or the church, or the state, to teach their children to be responsible. However, as fathers and mothers, we bear a particular burden of responsibility to raise up our children to be responsible, productive and contributing members of society. If you are a Christian parent, you bear the remarkable privilege of raising up your child in the faith. However, both character development and spiritual growth are increasingly farmed out to other organizations.

For example, I have a friend who teaches at a school that has implemented a character curriculum. Why would a school feel that it must implement this particular curriculum? One possible reason is that the school wants to indoctrinate the students into its understanding of character and how to act in society. This is a possibility, but we will assume that this school has good motives and truly wants their children to grow up to be young men and women of character. What other reason could motivate a school to implement this character curriculum? Could it be that the administration noticed that students were not being taught or shown good and helpful character traits in the home? I think this is far more likely.

The Republican presidential primary provides an excellent venue for us to understand why. Part of being a person of character is “seeking to understand as well as to be understood.” Have either Mr. Trump or Senator Cruz shown the slightest aptitude in this arena? No. The Republican presidential primary in particular, and American political discourse in general, lay bare the fact that our society is bankrupt regarding morals and character. It is not due to the encroaching liberalism.  It is not a lack of patriotism. No, it is the fact that families, and fathers in particular, have abdicated their basic and primary responsibility to raise up their children to be persons of character in either a secular or Christian sense.

No, the fault for the disintegration of the American family and American character does not lie with a certain ideology. It lies with that of an unpracticed ideology. Baucham makes the point in his book that it is not that Christian fathers were not taking their children to church or were participating in sinful activities in the eyes of their children. The Christian fathers might be committed lay people, deacons, even pastors. No, the problem was that Christian fathers were fathers who did not practice or esteem the ideology to which they held. By not having family devotions, they gave up their child’s spiritual and moral development to the state through school and to cultural Christianity through the churches. By not teaching their children the truths of the Bible, they were leaving their children at the mercy of a Christianity presented by The History Channel or the Internet. By taking the three month break from Sunday worship to play AAU basketball or select league baseball, they taught their children that Jesus is only important three-quarters of the year, which is another way of saying that Jesus really is not that important at all. No, the problem was not that the Christian fathers were not Christian; the problem is that they did not show their children how important their Christianity was.