You hear it all the time: “We don’t have the luxury of learning things that don’t help us make money.” Or, “Whatever you do in college, major in something that will lead directly to a well-paying job.”
The problem with these ideas is that education should not be considered only a means to an end. What we learn through schooling should help us live life more fully, in all of its aspects. If all one wants is job training, he should go to trade school. By the way, there is nothing wrong with trade school; indeed, it is a smart choice for a great number of people.
What we object to is thinking of all education, particularly at the secondary and university level, only as job training. Education should be an end in itself as well as a means to other ends. Often, our education is actually more important than the jobs it leads to. Some have totally inverted the equation, arguing that the reason we work is to be able to afford the wonder of various kinds of education.
Now, of course, a college education and degree can serve the purposes of both learning and gaining better employment and a more successful career. Indeed, all education should be both — and everyone invested in education, parents and grandparents as well as students, should think and plan with both in mind.
But let’s not get off-balance or extreme. When anyone thinks of education only as job training, he is tempted to want to avoid or eliminate classes in the liberal arts, in history and in a host of creative areas.
We like the thoughts of Danielle Allen, a professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., who says, “The current Obama administration proposes a competition to ‘redesign America’s high schools.’ Rewards will go to schools that develop more classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math — the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.
“We need all those classes in the STEM fields, as they are called, and as a nation we must do a better job of preparing our young people in these fields. But we don’t need to become a nation of technocrats.
“Let’s not forget that you can’t do well in math and engineering if you can’t read proficiently, and that reading is the province of courses in literature, language and writing. Nor can you do well in science and technology if you can’t interpret images and develop effective visualizations — skills that are strengthened by courses in art and art history. You also can’t excel at citizenship if you can’t read, write or speak well, or understand the complexity of the world and think historically. History helps us understand the features of our world that are changeable and that require either reform, because they are damaging, or protection, because they are valuable but vulnerable.”
The education of children is ultimately the responsibility of parents. As parents, we should appreciate schools as perhaps our greatest educational resource, but the buck stops with us. And we are also the ones who should help our children form their own attitudes and perspectives about education. Let’s be sure those perspectives are broad enough to give kids a thirst for learning in all areas and to view education as the means to a full and well-comprehended life — not just as job training.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at www.EyresFreeBooks.com or www.valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront."