Sunday, December 25, 2011

Is there a difference between education and learning?

What if every student in the entire United States ended up in a college or university? I was reading an article recently that repeated the commonly held belief that "every high school student should be prepared to go on to college." The article went on to claim that the failure of our school system to pass all of the high school students on to our college and university system was an indication of the failure of education. Even if that goal were achievable, would it be desirable? About the same time I was reading the article about sending the entire student population of the U.S. to college, there was another article about nurses in the California Penal system making over $200,000 a year. Is there a difference between education and training? Is there a difference between education and learning?

In support of the stated goal to have every student go to a college or a university, was the statement that if you wanted a high paying job, a "high school" education was worthless. I guess all the financially successful friends I have who have no college training didn't know that when they went to work.

So you get a college degree in say humanities or English, why are you then more qualified for a job than a high school graduate? Maybe we should start thinking in terms of jobs and training rather than "education." Maybe we need to improve the quality of our school system so that a high school diploma means something.

It is extremely difficult in today's politicized world to talk about the need for "education" when it is a given, that "no child be left behind." What that translates to in reality is that a certain percentage of students will be able to pass a test. It does not mean that the students will learn anything, especially that they will have the skills necessary to compete in a college or university environment. Even of those students graduating from high school with a high standardized test score, how many of them are poorly prepared for the academic rigor necessary to succeed in a four-year university? Some of the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2010 only 68.1 percent of high school graduates were enrolled in colleges or universities.  

Why do we have a goal to prepare all students for a college education when such a high percentage do not go on to higher education? How many high school students graduate with an employable skill? Bear in mind that overall in the U.S. only about half of the students graduate from high school. So of 100 students who start school, only about 50 graduate from high school. Then of those who graduate, only about 34 go on to college and then only 55% go on to graduate or about or 18 or 19 students out of 100! 

Why do we gear our entire school system to less than 20% of the students? Shouldn't the school systems be concentrating on teaching working skills rather than standardized tests that do not prepare students for anything in particular? If the goal of our educational system is to prepare all of the students for a college or university experience then we are failing about 80% of the students. Aren't we also short changing the vast majority of workers in the United States who do very well at jobs that don't require a college or university degree? What about all the college graduates who cannot find work? Isn't it about time our students learn some basic skills to compete in a global market, rather than emphasizing a uniform testing system that neither prepares them for higher education nor gives them a marketable skill when they finish high school?

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