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Education and Training
By Ronald W. Hull   

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Higher education has been increasingly driven by money and politics, leading to a confusion between education and training.


Many people think that education and training are the same thing.  That is probably why most of what is considered higher education has become training.  As humans, we come equipped to learn, and begin learning as soon as our eyes function, we start to hear sounds, and the random motions of our hands and fingers begin to feel the textures of our environment.  Our intelligence is largely genetic and doesn't change much over our lifetime.  But those that wish to train us don't believe that.  They think that they can alter our intelligence through schooling. Improving our minds. Channeling them toward useful purpose in society.

Training starts early, usually by forcing a baby to use the right-hand rather than be ambidextrous or choose the left. Getting the baby to eat with utensils rather than the hands, and potty training are examples of parents or guardians training young individuals to exhibit certain kinds of acceptable behavior.  Training usually involves a certain amount of eye hand coordination and repetition.  Eventually, the brain becomes hardwired to that particular activity and it becomes second nature.  This constant external pressure to conform causes the child to, very early on, limit its horizons.  Bandura found that humans and primates are capable of “one trial learning.”  That meant that they could observe something and then repeat it exactly the first time.  Since children are curious and learning, they easily pick up bad habits like Uncle Jack's swearing and need to be exposed to numerous training sessions to get them to stop.

B. F. Skinner, the father of behaviorism, trained pigeons for the military in World War II to accomplish complex tasks through repetition and rewards. He even went so far as to put his daughter in a box in order to give her a head start on her training by what he called, “positive reinforcement.”  Basically, positive reinforcement was small rewards provided at the exact right time that a expected positive behavior occurred.  When this was done over many repetitions, the behavior was learned.  Skinner found that he could train many birds and animals this way. He felt that positive reinforcement had advantages when training children.  Many years ago, I had the privilege of serving on the same faculty has Dr. Julie Vargas.  Julie was an educational psychologist and, another daughter of B. F. Skinner.  Julie was not the daughter that was in the box.  As far as I know, she suffered no lasting damage from her father's penchant for training.  

Education, on the other hand, stays in that region of experience that is not directed by a parent or guardian but involves the youngster's natural eagerness to learn: first to speak a language, and then to crawl, walk, and run.  Education and training continues through life every time a person wants to develop some sort of skill.  Advanced skills usually take a long time to develop in people that don't have a natural talent and require much repetition and refinement.  Skills that produce the kinds of things that society wants are considered valuable and skills that do not produce a way to produce money are considered not valuable, unfortunately.

Hence we have the dichotomy: skills are considered valuable and education (for education's sake) is not.  That is probably why philosophers are paid so much less than medical doctors. We look at training and skill as being more valuable than education.  And that is probably why there is so much concern about schooling and why people on all sides claim that we are doing it wrong.  That we are not giving the children enough training to get good jobs.

 I can't provide an answer to this dichotomy except to say that it isn't fair.  But fairness is not considered to be of any value in our technological society.  Rather, we believe that having a valuable skill is more important.  Hence, higher education, instead of providing insight into philosophy, literature, and the arts, focuses much of its effort––and expenditure––on athletics, medicine, the law, applied science, and accounting––all fields where extensive training is applied rather than education.

Our inner self fights this regimentation, just like we fought with our parents over potty training, but eventually we succumb to the idea of a job and a skill that will make us a living in our modern, monetary-based society.  In our quest for finding out who is the most trainable, our schools have been judged by testing.  As though tests could determine the value of an education.  By testing, we determine who the most trainable are and channel them into the professions according to what the tests tell us rather than what each individual knows already or wants to learn.

Prior to 1900, only the wealthy could have a higher education in one of the few colleges and universities there were.  These institutions were truly higher education because they did not focus on job training (professions) but rather on higher learning.  Societal leaders, like our founding fathers in the United States, got this type of education.  But as the nation grew, we found leaders from the school of hard knocks, born in log cabins and self-taught.  The captains of industry and finance in those days started out by working hard and built empires, often without any education at all.  During the nineteenth century, wave after wave of immigrants brought skilled tradesmen and laborers to feed the growing industries and factories.  By the end of the century, the captains of industry saw a need to have more skilled people and started manual training schools.  Many of these manual training schools became teachers' colleges and continued the idea that skilled training was important for life.  As the twentieth century progressed and parents saw a need for an upward path for their children, they enrolled them in these schools, expecting the next generation to get better jobs as they achieved a higher education.

By the mid-twentieth century, most of the teacher's colleges had added graduate coursework in an attempt to become professional schools providing advanced training.  Most of these schools became universities, but training remained their primary function.  The number of schools where one could get a higher education proportionally diminished by the addition of all the schools training people for specific occupations rather than giving them a higher education.

As we begin the twenty first century, the push is for even more training through certification and extreme specialization.  The idea of a “higher” education is lost in the push to become expert in the latest occupations that pay the most.  When a quest for money drives education, it is no education at all––only training to be the best boxer, rocket pilot, nano surgeon, or code writer.  While these highly skilled, well-trained occupations pay very well, not everyone has the discipline or intelligence to stick it out until they reach the level required to enter the profession.  Still, the diploma mills that skip even training and offer degrees and certifications merely for money, sell the people on the idea that you don't have to learn and train for high pay, just have the credentials.

What is lost in all this is education, and worse, higher education.  Our children are not being educated in public schools, they are being trained to take the test and prove the school is worth the money it's getting to have you in its walls.  Private schools are doing a better job of educating, but, like the colonial days, only the wealthy can go to those schools.  The same is true for universities.  The elite universities still offer a higher education, but they must turn out superior professional people in the process to continue to be funded by their alumni.  The idea of just getting a higher education, say, a doctor of philosophy in no particular specialization, is almost extinct.  No wonder that the truly Renaissance people we find today tend to be college dropouts who couldn't stand the regimentation and training mode of the colleges and universities they attended.

What is lost by the loss of higher education?  I don't know.  But I would hate to see us become a world made of specialized, robot-like people who can't do critical thinking because we never had the opportunity, during our formative years, to do anything other than focus on training for the peak of some future occupation rather than becoming a part of the citizenry of an ever-changing and growing world.  Remember, most computers, animals and primates, including humans, can be trained. Only humans can be educated.

Copyright 2012 © Ronald W Hull







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