Training vs. Education

In 1644 John Milton sketched the curriculum of an academy for students aged twelve to twenty-one. “This place should be both school and university.” His target was educational reformer John Amos Comenius, who advocated (in modern terms) a child-centered education that aimed at preparing students for a profession. Milton’s proposal was for (again in modern terms) a classical Christian curriculum aimed at educating citizens. “I call therefore a complete and generous education that which fits a man to perform justly, skillfully and magnanimously all the offices both private and public of peace and war.“ The graduates were to be “good men and good governors.”

I find Milton’s curriculum excellent and his goal essential for public education, especially at public universities. Since professional education benefits students directly and immediately, they and their families should bear its cost. Funding education for citizenship suffers from what economists call the “neighborhood effect,” because the results are in everyone’s interest, but do not benefit financially any one person or group.

The distinction between training for a profession and education for citizenship—what Albert Jay Nock in his Theory of Education in the United States (1932) called simply “training” and “education,”—has largely disappeared from the contemporary academy. This loss of key ideas and ideals has led to an impoverishment of discourse that is responsible for many problems in higher education today. The loss of concepts with which to discuss curriculum and educational goals has demoralized the faculty, especially but not only in STEM subjects (Science Technology Engineering Math), which are the easiest ones to convert into professional courses. Lacking the words to express important issues about the teaching mission of the university, many faculty cannot formulate questions like the following. Are university faculty experts training customers for a job, or are they citizens preparing fellow citizens for a shared life under consensual institutions?  This implosion in the vocabulary with which to express important ideas has also affected non-academics who serve on university boards. “Full of passionate intensity,” in Yeats’s words, they are inspired by a mission to eliminate from the curriculum subjects, like Classics, and goals, like citizenship, that were foundational for the creators of modern Europe and America, including the Reformers, the leaders of the Scientific Revolution and the American Founders. Every society needs training, of course, but it is fair to wonder if freedom and creativity can survive without education.

Posted by: Christian Kopff

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