I’ve found the last two articles from Chalcedon on diversity and education very interesting, and here is some of why.
If any of you have read my profile, you’ve likely noted that the first word is ‘Lineman’. Of all the many (or few) accomplishments of my life, it’s the one I’m most proud of. To be a bit more specific, I am a distribution power lineman. I was trained, albeit informally, while I was in junior and senior high school, although it is one of those jobs (and vocation applies), I think, that is in the blood. So was my dad, and two of his brothers, and my grandfather ran the town light plant, before he died when dad was in the eleventh grade, leaving him (the eldest still home) to support the family. This was pre great depression, and there was no government support. I got my Journeyman card on my eighteenth birthday, the very first day it could be issued.
Not that that stopped dad, there are stories of him replacing every telephone line in town after an ice storm by stringing them from the water tower, and many others, in January, in northern Minnesota. But his other great love was music, especially John Phillip Sousa, and yes, I inherited that as well, although I’m more varied which likely had to do with much wider opportunities. My uncles that didn’t work for various power companies, were band directors. I used to have a program from dad’s days in the town band, there were three that weren’t family, and grampa was the director.
But the other half of my background is this. Mom had a BA in teaching at a time when a couple of years of college was all that was required. (And yes, the average 8th grader probably was better educated than most HS graduates today). In fact, I’m the direct opposite of Chalcedon, I’m the only one of my siblings that didn’t finish college.
There’s a story in that. Like everyone, I had some good teachers and some bad ones. In my case, I had excellent teachers in history and government, pretty good ones in science, and mediocre or worse in math. Not ideal for a kid that wanted to be an engineer. As my brother in law said at the time, “There’s no doubt he can do the job, but he’ll never get through school.” Dead accurate.
So I ended up a history major, at one of America’s great engineering schools, pinning my hopes on flying for the Air Force until I found out they wouldn’t waiver my history of hay fever. Finally, the colonel commanding sat me down and explained, and it makes sense. Family duties intervened and so I didn’t finish, but I’ve always been grateful for the experience.
That why I’ll occasionally comment on being unedujumicated, especially on this blog, where we interact with some really well-educated folk. I note that both Chalcedon and Jessica are teachers, who have moved into administration, as is Geoffrey, and I’ll note that they all three are very highly respected, and I consider myself very lucky that they have become my friends, as well. Thing is, though, it’s not really what you learn in school.
It’s that you learn how little you know and that you learn how to learn. I have never lost my taste for learning, it’s why those other things are on my profile, I’ve done OK myself, and frankly I’m glad I didn’t become an engineer, I never had much desire to spend my life in an office, drawing pictures for others to build, I’d rather build it, although I do enjoy designing, and do quite a lot of it.
It might be interesting that right now I’m reading Locke, and David Mamet, as well as Adam Smith and The Federalist Papers and the Adventure of English, and I just finished a biography of General Pershing, all are amongst the 90+ books on my Kindle, most of which cost well under $5. Never has learning been so easy or inexpensive. Not that that stops me from buying dead tree books either, I’ve four on order of those as well. I’ve also done some courses through Coursera, and from other places, all you need is the desire to learn.
Yesterday Chalcedon mentioned that Women’s studies and Media studies (and implied others as well) are not as simple-minded as many of us believe. I’m quite sure that’s true if they teach how to learn, my learning of history has helped me in everything I’ve ever done, as well as enriching my life immeasurably, as has music.
But I wonder if perhaps “physiotherapy and sports rehabilitation, not to mention courses to do with computing and [maybe even] law” (pre-law maybe in America) are not more modern trades than proper courses of academic studies, although I note that my college was one of the first to offer a BS in nursing, and one could rarely finish it in four years, it was every bit as tough as engineering, as was pharmacology.
None of that should be taken as denigration of trade schools, they can (and do) an extraordinary job of preparing people for life. But classical liberal arts schools have a somewhat different mission, specifically to prepare people to think, not so much to do.
In the last analysis, we need teachers who teach, and do it well, and if they do, they will also teach their students to learn to love learning. And yet, as I’ve said before, as I got more senior (not to mention old and decrepit) my role has become more and more to teach others to be better than I ever was. That’s how trades have been passed down, in fact as Steve commented, that was a good bit of what the guild system was all about. We all have to take responsibility for teaching the young, if we delegate it completely to the teachers, well, I doubt it will succeed. Not least because as teachers, they don’t have the experiences we have learned from in our worlds.