Today I exchanged some tweets with David Peter (@dpeter) on the subject of education and learning. I think he may believe I’m a troll, but I’m serious about engaging this idea and I welcome others to chime in as well
He kicked off the exchange with this:
Thinking about some of the tweets of today, I wonder (rhetorically) If education is as easy as “talking” why are we having so many problems?
nlowell: @dpeter Education is easy. Learning is hard. As long as those two aren’t related, changes in the first won’t effect the second.
dpeter: @nlowell I believe education and learning ARE related. And, change in either will produce change in the other.
nlowell: @dpeter only tangentially. what you learn fm education is a small subset of what you learn at the macro level.
nlowell: @dpeter is there middle ground? What relationship do you see?
dpeter: @nlowell If education is the product of learning, then there is a distinct relationship.
nlowell: @dpeter that’s a big if. Education is the business of selling credentials. The product of Learning is Life. Divergent Paradigms?
nlowell: @dpeter I agree w/your logic but the predicate seems flawed.
So far, he hasn’t responded but it’s entirely likely he’s gotten on with his day.
My concern is that this is more than 140 characters worth of discussion and I’d like to invite him to talk some more about this. My belief is that we’ve actually touched on one of the breakdowns – one of the points that keep blocking the kinds of progress in learning that education reformers would like to see.
An agreement as to the purpose of education is key. What is the product? What are we trying to do with education? On the surface we want to prepare people of all ages to participate in the world on their own terms and as successfully as possible. That’s sort of the ancient ideal of “to become educated.” Along the way, that ideal has been transformed into “having a credential.”
My position is that schools — as the production unit of Education — exist to sell credentials. Business is in collusion with Education by withholding economic opportunity from those who lack said credential, thereby creating a market for the product that schools create.
Note: I am not suggesting that this is in any higher sense “right” but the evidence is that this assessment is correct. Take any job that requires some level of skill or knowledge. You need to do one of two things to participate in that job. 1) Get the required credential or 2) Become you own employer and find people who will buy directly from you.
It doesn’t matter what you pick, the outcomes are predictable. Strictly speaking you don’t need to know anything, if you have the credentials, in order to get a job. You may have to demonstrate some knowledge — or at least the ability to acquire that knowledge — within some short period of time after getting the job, but without the credential, it does not matter how much you know, what experience you have, or anything else. You will not be allowed to participate because you lack the credential. In this market, knowledge — the erstwhile product of education — is worthless. Credential — the real product of education — is key.
This is new. It didn’t used to be that way. The classic ideal of getting an education meant actually learning something – studying widely, focusing on issues that were of import to the individual who wanted to participate in the society. Credentials were largely non-existent and where they did exist, they were not the be-all/end-all of participation.
In education circles, the classic view of education as higher goal is still in vogue. This dichotomy seems to me to be one of the stumbling blocks because it blinds education reformers to a reality. David Peter disagrees and I hope he’ll take the time to debate this with me here instead of in the 140 character confines of twitter.