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Higher (and lower) Ed


There is some disturbing rhetoric in higher education today that we may regret in the long run. Much of it boils down to the simple (but not necessarily simplistic) distinction between education and training.

Even The Nation, ordinarily a welcome source of progressive ideas, has brought me up short in a recent article by Thomas Geoghegan, “Ten Things Dems Could Do to Win.” Number 8 on Geoghegan’s list suggests a College Bill of Rights for those who elect to pursue higher education. One of his proposals for “Truth in Advertising” would make our institutions accountable for their product. I’m concerned that the emphasis, however, will swing disproportionately toward training and away from education: the former regulates the bowel habits of young children; the latter equips young adults to face the unanticipated challenge of complex issues without easy or even obvious solutions.

The upper echelon of education is populated with administrators who do “the big think”; whose academese and status equip them to tell all of us–regardless of discipline–how to do our jobs in the trenches. Being lectured by them can be galling.


Books come along that change lives, often unexpectedly. Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse has been that kind of experience for me, especially Chapter 17 as it cuts through the argle-bargle of education-speak, discussing our preparation for the surprises that life delivers without end:

To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.

Education discovers an increasing richness in the past, because it sees what is unfinished there. Training regards the past as finished and the future as to be finished. Education leads toward a continuing self-discovery; training leads toward a final self-definition. 

Training repeats a completed past in the future. Education continues an unfinished past into the future.

Our department has succeeded because, consciously or otherwise, we have embraced Carse’s understanding of education versus training.

Agincourt has had at least two institutions for advanced education during the last 150 years–the private Bishop Kemper Academy and the the public Northwest Iowa Normal School–not to mention K-12 public and parochial schools. I wonder how these ideas have manifest themselves.


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