William Astore on education:
What do torture, a major recession, and two debilitating wars have to do with our educational system? My guess: plenty. These are the three most immediate realities of a system that fails to challenge, or even critique, authority in any meaningful way.
(major snippage–all the way to page two)
Perhaps I’m biased because I teach history, but here’s a fact to consider: Unless a cadet at the Air Force Academy (where I once taught) decides to major in the subject, he or she is never required to take a U.S. history course. Cadets are, however, required to take a mind-boggling array of required courses in various engineering and scientific disciplines as well as calculus. Or civilians, chew on this: At the Pennsylvania College of Technology, where I currently teach, of the roughly 6,600 students currently enrolled, only 30 took a course this semester on U.S. history since the Civil War, and only three were programmatically required to do so.
We don’t have to worry about our college graduates forgetting the lessons of history — not when they never learned them to begin with.
In the course of my short and largely-unnoticed stint in Blogistan, one of the things I’ve observed is how many persons know little or nothing about (in this case) American history, freeing them to say most sincerely outrageous and outrageously false things, such as “America was founded as a Christian nation.” That is just not true. It is not just unsupported by the historical record, it is directly counter to it. It is a historical–and a historic–lie. But the ignorant of history may believe it sincerely.
Earlier in the article, Astore discusses the current emphasis on teaching tech. It’s flashy, exciting, and, most of all, quantifiable. Persons like numbers. They are nice and concrete, unlike writing skills. “How many computer labs” is ever so easier to advertise than “how much thought goes on.”
Now, I think tech is a wonderful thing. I spend a good part of my day messing about with tech.
But here’s the kicker: Tech changes. History doesn’t (although historiography does, both as new information is discovered and different perspectives are employed).
I remember in the early days of computers when the educational system was all a-gaga over “computer literacy” (whatever that is–there never was an accepted definition*). A number of outfits decided to make students “computer literate” by teaching them how the program in BASIC.
No one programs in BASIC any more. In fact, no one was programming in BASIC five years later. Hours wasted. Teaching today’s tech does not prepare one to use tomorrow’s tech.
A half-semester class in Boolean algebra, which is the underpinning of programming, would have been far more useful. (Boolean algebra, by the way, is math, not tech.)
I am a trainer by trade (and a historian by training). When persons ask me the difference between training and education, I tell them that
The goal of training is to teach someone how to do. The goal of education is to lead someone how to understand.
Someone who can understand will be able to do. Someone who can do may not be able to understand.
*”Computer literacy” seems to boil down to being able to do whatever the person using the term thinks you should be able to do, whether or not you’ll ever have to do it in your real life.