Should we train or educate?

One of the central debates in education circles these days is about what teachers ought to teach.

The pragmatists  favor training students to get along in the world as we know it, the business world dominated by the likes of Amazon and Google. (The pragmatists may go so far as to appear to limit the world as we know it to the world that’s described on standardized tests, which is too far, in my opinion.)

Another group I’ll call futurists argues that we can’t know what students will need to know by the time they graduate from  high school or college so we need to focus on “meta” skills, those that can be applied to changing situations throughout their lives.

The debate has changed little over centuries. What has changed is the pace of change: The future arrives much sooner than it used to.

The best path lies between the two extremes.

runner prepares to race on track

Train students for the known.

To ensure they can prepare students adequately, teachers need to familiarize themselves with the skills their students will need to be successful workers at area businesses and non-profit organizations. Not only will that knowledge make it possible to show students how training is relevant, but it is wonderful for school public relations.

Upper middle school and high school students must be able to read, write, and figure well enough to be successful volunteers at the local library or animal shelter

High school students and college undergraduates need to learn thoroughly whatever basic skills they need now to work in Pete’s Pizza Shop or Gayle’s Gadget Garage.

College students must learn skills that will let them put their degrees to use after graduation at business in the region around the college.

Educate students for the unknown.

Teachers and administrators can’t predict what students will need to know five years from now, but they can expect students will need to train to use new equipment and apply new skills.

Educators need to teach students not only how to learn information stuff, but how to work with different kinds of people in different environments and cultures.

Lacking information about what students will need to know in the future, teachers have to prepare students to be comfortable with—or at least not be overwhelmed by—change. The arts and humanities can offer opportunities for students to develop an awareness of cultures and environments unlike their own.