Yesterday I went to Marilynne Robinson’s lecture on the crisis in American education. She said a lot of pertinent things that you can read in a lecture that appears in Harper’s. But one thing she mentioned is the distinction between education and training. I’m going to extrapolate from her point, while probably looping into paraphrase from time to time.
Ahem: If we think about the implications that attach to “education” and “training,” we’ll find that education is supposed to teach a person to think, create and question. A liberal arts education introduces a person to all manner of subject, so she can lead an intellectual, inventive, and critical life. On the other hand, if someone receives training, she is conditioned to do a task. Some of that is necessary. We want to train a soldier how to react under pressure. But training can also be more mindless than that, such as when we train a dog. Training is not mutually exclusive from education, but on the whole, it teaches the trainee to follow a protocol.
Now I think we should consider these politicians who want to turn our universities away from education and more toward training. What are they–deliberately or not–situating their public to achieve? What are they setting us up to follow? Are we supposed to accept their proclamations without having studied rhetoric? Are we to follow the news, without having studied comparative religion? Or economics? Or history? I understand that a liberal arts education might not be for everyone. Some people just don’t flourish in school. But, as Marilynne says, it should be available to anyone.
(Originally posted December 10, 2015)