Note: Dr. Hodges at the excellent Gypsy Scholar blog posted about education and training in the Korean education system last week. His post reminded me that I had this post lingering in the drafts folder, which started as a tangent that developed while writing this other post a few months back…

Most of us who are teachers want to educate, which in my mind means teaching our students to ask question and have the capacity to answer those questions, thereby learning on their own.

The goal is, as the popular catchphrase goes, “to create lifelong learners.”

No Child Left Behind and its insistence on standardized testing, however, is creating an atmosphere that rewards training more than educating.

The difference is that education opens doors and creates possibilities. Training tends to have the opposite effect. I don’t intend to disparage training because it is a critical part of education (doctors, lawyers, teachers, mechanics, engineers, architects are all highly trained) but for kids in a state-imposed secondary curriculum, education should take precedence over training.

An educated learner responds to training better than one who has only known training. This is why education progressively focuses rather than broadens, providing the necessary foundation for training be it medical, automotive or anything else (example track: high school diploma to biology degree to medical degree to specialization in thoracic surgery as the good doctor moves from broad education to specialized training.)

So what, then, is the purpose of secondary public education? This is a question that is often hotly debated by academic and vocational teachers in school staff rooms on campuses everywhere.

The fact is that both education and training are important. The world is full of kids who aren’t going to college and probably don’t need to. With that in mind, though, does that mean that secondary education should be the place to emphasize training?

I once had a discussion with an agriculture teacher (I was in a school where a substantial portion of the students came from farming families) who held fast to a belief that we (misguided English teachers) should not be wasting our students’ time with poetry when we could be training them to fill out purchase orders and write resumes.

That’s training; it isn’t education. Of course, I have taught many kids who might – in the short term – be well served with a purely practical training over a more liberal education, kids who maybe wouldn’t have dropped out of school, but that doesn’t sit well with me.

First, there is something intrinsically valuable in developing a general awareness and appreciation for the arts, science, math, history, philosophy, and language even if these things will never directly contribute to putting food on the table or a third car in the garage. Second, many kids will grow into adults who do wish to pursue these things beyond the level necessary to fill out a purchase order or write a resume. If they don’t have the option of realistically continuing their studies should they choose to do so, we’ve failed them.

An educated student can learn to fill out a PO. A trained student will know one method for filling out one kind of PO.

An educated student can do anything, go anywhere, learn anything. An educated student has the possibilities that are opened through critical thinking, broad knowledge and an awareness of how to use those tools.

A student trained to regurgitate correct answers on a multiple choice state assessment may become a master test-taker, but what else will that student who sees the world only in right-wrong multiple choice formulations be able to do?

Just before he retired in frustration, my old principal confided in me, “They only want us to create technocrats.” That’s where training at the expense of education will lead us.

The Texas Legislature is soon to embark upon what will most likely later be known as “Failed Special Session on School Finance, Number Four.” When politicians begin to discuss public schools in the coming months, I hope the goal of Texas public schools will still be to educate young Texans and not merely to train tomorrow’s workforce.