Education v. training

One of the criticisms of high school is that it doesn’t prepare students for the real world (“I learned nothing at one of NYC’s elite high schools,” New York Post, Mar. 31).   There is some truth to that complaint, but it confuses education with training.

Although they sometimes overlap, they are not synonymous.  Education is concerned with concepts; training is concerned with techniques. If students want to learn the skills and knowledge that are immediately useful for getting a job, they should choose a vocational curriculum.  I’ve long maintained that many students would be better served not going to college.  Apprenticeship programs would be a far better fit for them. A new kind of post-secondary education is also proving popular.  It’s billed as a college alternative for the digital age.  Students enroll in a one-year program requiring 40 to 50 hours a week of studying.  They agree to pay the school a percentage of their income for three years after graduation.

Whether a traditional academic education is worth pursuing depends on personal factors.  Students have been brainwashed into believing that without a four-year degree from a marquee-name school they have a bleak future.  That is a total distortion of reality.  Welders, for example, are in short supply and earn close to $100,000. I had students in my high school English classes who were clearly not college material.  Those who went on to learn a trade today make a solid middle-class income.  I question if a degree would have made any difference in their satisfaction.

Germany and other countries are more realistic than we are about sorting out students.  As a result, they have the lowest unemployment rate among young people in Europe.  Only the most intellectually able are admitted into university.  But this differentiation is anathema to our belief in democratization.  I say we do our young people a grave disservice by persisting in the fiction that college is for everyone.

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4 Replies to “Education v. training”

  1. How about courses like civics, economics, parenting, sex ed and personal finance? Perhaps these fall within “concepts” but some are definitely more in the “training” area.

    My principal criticism of current high school curricula — as I understand it — is the over-emphasis on traditional courses — i.e., English lit, foreign language, higher math, sciences — at the expense of subjects that students should know in order to function as citizens and responsible members of society. The fact that Trump did so much better with no-college voters than with college-graduate voters is strong evidence that high school curricula is deficient re civics and economics. The fact that many adults — particularly young adults — run up large credit card debt with the accompanying high interest charges is strong evidence that high school curricula is deficient re personal finance.


  2. Labor Lawyer: There’s an urgent need to make high school students more knowledgeable about matters they will face after graduation. Unfortunately, these are not considered “academic” and are thus overlooked. I continue to believe that a vocational curriculum deserves far greater respect. The premium attached to a four-year college degree has been wildly oversold because it does not take into account the majors studied. Our competitors abroad are more realistic than we are in this regard, which is why youth unemployment there is less than it is here.


  3. I am disappointed to see politics entering this discussion.
    I have a son who is a master electrician and has always made more than twice as much as I did as a teacher with a masters degree. Vocational technical high schools do not limit students from going on and earning a college degree.
    Everyone should visit a vocational technical high school and see the enthusiasm of the students They love what they do and upon graduation, they have an opportunity to either go to work or go on for further education.
    How many college graduates, today, do not have job opportunities?
    We all have different interests and abilities, and we should be able to reach our dreams.


  4. John: You are so right! Vocational education is exactly what these students love. Yet we persist in the fiction that voc ed is inferior. It really is outrageous. I share your experience about salaries. Former students who are plumbers, auto mechanics and electricians make more than I ever did with a M.S. and 28 years experience. Most important, voc ed gives them enormous satisfaction.


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