Education: Picnic basket or scavenger hunt?

I subscribe to a wonderful newsletter about design, produced by a wise and creative fellow named John McWade (publishes a newsletter called Before and After) – he passed along this tidbit – that frames a basic problem in our education prospects going forward, in every profession.  Here’s the excerpted story:

“{After a conference …} At day’s end I got visiting with Valerie Brewster, a veteran book designer and self-described dinosaur, about the decline of paper books, fine typography, and the loss of practitioners, who, with the rise of ebooks, glass pages, and our fantastically evolving technology, have jumped ship, often late in their careers, to other fields (which, paradoxically, has opened up more work for her). I commiserated with her on the displacement and difficulty of this: You spend a career mastering a craft, over decades becoming so deep, so knowing, so capable, that you are now the wise old man or woman to whom even teachers of teachers come for guidance. And then the craft vanishes, leaving what?

After hardly a moment’s reflection, Valerie said (I paraphrase), “That’s what’s going missing! We’re not making masters. The changes are coming so fast that everyone is always beginning.”

Which I hadn’t thought about in that way, but which is so perceptive.

No masters. Skills, entire professions, especially in tech, now run a 100-year life cycle in a decade or less. No one gains the wisdom of years. That’s the void I’ve felt but couldn’t articulate.”

So, ultimately, how do we even contemplate apprenticeship programs, internships and the like – if the “trainers” are only serial newbies, themselves?  How do we design a curriculum to achieve a practical  “education” if the fundamental elements no longer stay stable from one class to the next?

Samuel Johnson, the famed lexicographer, once said “Knowledge is of two kinds – that which we know, and that which we know how to find out.”  Our current system is built almost exclusively on the former – and we assess the absorption of that education with feats of memory called tests and quizzes.  When perhaps we should be testing something more realistic for today’s world: how to analyze a question, determine sources of answers, assess the legitimacy/accuracy of those sources, and come to a conclusion.

On the bright sunny day we are born, we head for the picnic of life carrying a basket, into which we put our education, and when we are hungry, enough is extracted from the basket to meet our needs.  At least that’s the theory.  We have put education into a picnic basket in which all the answers are packed neatly wrapped in a degree or a credential.  When in fact, it turns out that life is not so clearly defined as a picnic, and the education is more of a scavenger hunt – where questions soar in from left field and the answers must be dug from a heap of Internet and other non-traditional sources.

The longer we persist in pursuing a flawed model, the further we get from the right place.   Our education must be restructured, and it may be that the necessary response is as simple and elegant as this insight which made the problem so clear.  But we are doing the wrong thing – and it hurts us every day!

— Rich Bowers

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One Response to Education: Picnic basket or scavenger hunt?

  1. test site says:

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