Educating for a Lifetime or Training for a Job?

Posted on April 25, 2013 by

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Education Liberal ClassicalThis question is at the heart of Michael Hepner’s recent article over at RealClearPolitics. Hepner, a professor at the University of Dubuque, argues that we are failing our students and depriving them of a sound education when we allow them to ignore or skip over their general education requirements and focus on their major courses that are designed for job preparation.

Hepner’s argument is hard to swallow for those who see education primarily in occupational terms. After all, what good is a degree if it does not prepare you for a particular career path? This question, as Hepner makes clear, is short-sighted, for it is focused only on the immediacy of economic outcomes, instead of considering the long-term benefits of a deep, meaningful interaction with the great thinkers and thoughts. Education that fails to consider life’s largest questions–who am I? why am I here? what is true? what is beauty? what is just?–is not really education.

Of course we must be mindful of preparing our students for a lifetime of work, particularly in harsh economic times. College, for most, is not a luxury but a necessity. As Hepner notes, though, the liberal education to which he refers provides the most important career skills (critical thinking and multi-faceted communication abilities that include argumentation and analysis), especially in a digital age. The focus for many careers is on the ability to wield information correctly and meaningfully. Technical training fails on this front.

Hepner is not discussing this as an educational alternative, as in constructing universities around this theory of education, but the possibility still exists. The kind of education Hepner describes is traditional–face to face, Socratic, and interactive. This is difficult to replicate in an online environment. At the same time, it is cheap. It is devoid of bells and whistles and does not require high-definition monitors, elaborate laboratories, or even luxurious dormitories. Maybe this is a way, at least for some institutions, costs can be brought down to the point where this method of education is more affordable, and therefore more attractive as an alternative.

This entire discussion, naturally, is treated at length in Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, a book that more people ought to read.

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Posted in: Education