Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Vocational Training vs. Classical Christian Education?

When it comes to classical Christian education (cCE), I am all for it. However, there's a trend in cCE of which I'm not sure I approve. I haven't given it deep thought, but I have given it enough to blog about it and hope that one or two of my rare readers will debate it. The question concerns vocational training.

The classical component of cCE is all about training the mind how to think, and how to learn. This is so important to many in the field (such as the faculty of New St. Andrews College, e.g.), that I wonder if they haven't over-reacted against vocational training. Here's a quote from the Wiki on cCE:
After the Industrial Revolution and the World War I, progressive theories of education along with cultural conditions that suggested a new era of democracy and human capability were dawning combined to lead many to turn from the traditional classical curriculum and experiment with new more pragmatic approaches to education that emphasized vocational and professional training over the "making of the man" that was the aim of the traditional classical curriculum.

I have heard, though I can't produce the source off-hand, something to the effect that New St. Andrews college rejoices in giving their students a degree that can't land them a job. There does seem to be a strong feeling against vocational training in cCE.

Now I wonder, is this the way cCE needs to go?

Consider the following issues pro and con this anti-vocational training bent:


Granted that the modern K-Ph.D. vocational training route usually fails to teach students how to think or learn. The exceptions seem to be the students bright enough to figure that out on their own.


1. Surely, in today's economy, we must have division of labor. We need people in the engineering and science fields, for example.

2. Someone with God-given talents and abilities in science/engineering (I pick on these fields not because they're the only such fields out there, but because they make a good test case for what I'm talking about) who receives a cCE, without extensive further training on the order of a degree, will assuredly NOT be able to get a job doing science or engineering.

3. Today's market has changed a fair amount. In the private sector, employers seem to be getting rid of their more experienced employees who can train in the new guys. As a consequence, more and more jobs are requiring already experienced applicants. Employers want recruits who can hit the ground running, not someone who needs a year of extensive training before he's worth anything.

4. If a man does not work, he shall not eat. We have it on pretty decent authority that if a man does not eat, he will not live. The commandment not to murder says that we are to promote life. Therefore, it is a logical consequence that a man must work. Given that work is THAT important, why would an education purposely try to avoid giving a man specialized tools?

It seems to me that specialization does seem to be one of the main issues here. Classical Christian education rightly points out that a man gets to be mentally one-sided if all he does is vocation. I would almost claim that a man would get to be physically one-sided if all he did was cCE! Where's a balance?

Here's my proposal. For K-12, hit the cCE as hard as you want. If you do that bit well, he should be prepared, as Dorothy Sayers says, for life. In today's world, that's probably going to mean that he has to get a degree in order to earn a buck, though there are, of course, exceptions. So let's say he has to get a degree. Well, he has the tools of learning. Put them to work in vocational training (which you can sort of view as an extension of the Quadrivium, if you like). Make the post-secondary education vocational, with the assumption that the students are classically trained.

As one German chemist put it, "Give me a student who has learned his Latin grammar, and I will answer for his chemistry."

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At 7/09/2008 08:51:00 PM , Blogger M.K. said...

The pattern of classical education I've always heard, mimics what you describe: the grammar/logic/rhetoric stages through 12th grade, and then specializing from there. In fact, the rigor and maturity of the classical method better prepare the student for choosing a field for more advanced study. This seems a reasonable approach, and eliminates the problems you mention.

The only difficulty lies with students who are really not up to the difficulties of a classical approach, and need a thoroughly vocational route, even in high school - i.e., kids who don't really have "academic" gifts. I think our modern cookie-cutter system is wrong for them. We dumb down high schools for them, when they are really not suited for it in the first place. This is one of the most problematic shifts in education in the 20th century, IMO.

At 7/12/2008 03:47:00 PM , Anonymous MG said...

Happy Birthday! :-)

At 7/18/2008 12:48:00 PM , Blogger Bethgem said...

Yeah, I don't know what's up with general classical education colleges. It seems to me they cover what a classical education high school education should do. Have you looked at the St. John's reading list?

At 8/08/2008 03:30:00 PM , Anonymous Andrew said...

It seems to me that New Saint Andrews specializes in teaching theology. And every Christian, especially Reformed Christians, should agree that if someone does not get their theology right they won't get anything right. Why teach vocational skills at NSA? Someone can just go to the community college ob the corner to get that.

At 8/08/2008 03:31:00 PM , Anonymous Andrew said...

That should have been "community college on the corner" not "community college ob the corner."

At 8/11/2008 08:04:00 PM , Blogger Adrian C. Keister said...

Reply to Andrew.

I don't mean to imply that NSA has to teach vocational skills. Naturally, they can teach whatever they want. I bring them up because they are representative of the general trend I'm talking about.

In Christ.


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