POOLE: Education should be more than just professional | Opinion
If Frank Thomas had played Major League Baseball in this century, or even in the 70s, 80s, or 90s, he would have made money for my grandkids-who-will-never-have-to -work-a-day-of-their-life .
Thomas – not to be confused with the Chicago White Sox Hall of Fame designated hitter of the same name who played in the 1990s and therefore made my grandkids-never-have-to-work -a-day-in-the-money-of-a-lifetime-was a three-time all-star, hit 30 homers in three seasons and had 10 years where he hit at least 20 homers.
But he did in the 1950s and 1960s, so he still had to worry about making a living when his baseball career was over.
When the cheers died down, Frank Thomas made ends meet by selling the future.
That’s how he ended up in my ninth-grade computer class.
It was 1980 and we were learning programming on Apple IIE computers, which had 48K hard disk memory. By today’s standards, it’s next to nothing – each of the photographs on this page is a digital file that far exceeds what was once the capacity of an entire desktop computer – but it was powerful enough for the era.
And since Thomas had his best seasons in Major League Baseball before any of us were born, we had no idea who he was. Our computer teacher, Mr. Grimm, cleared things up for us. He was a wrestling coach, but he knew his baseball.
Thomas told us that we could learn to manipulate all those ones and zeros that make computers do what we want them to do. and he promised that we would build that future faster if we went to business school – that we would start cashing the paychecks when our peers were only halfway through college.
How could that be possible, he asked. Then he answered the question.
While students must take liberal arts classes — history, philosophy, foreign languages — Thomas told us that the business school curriculum would only teach us what we need to know to work in that future.
This 40-year-old message has become new again.
One of the few things everyone — Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives — can agree on these days is that more young people should consider trade schools and apprenticeships as an alternative to college.
And that’s true.
Instead of going to college and racking up debt that at best would take years or even decades to pay off, business and trade schools like the one Frank Thomas once promoted can quickly teach young people the skills they need to enter the workforce.
And only those skills. This is where the problem lies.
This is not to denigrate career-oriented education, but the school must do more than prepare young people for the labor market.
In a political system where we choose our leaders, where individual freedom is sacrosanct, education must be more than professional training. Too often, however, school – from kindergarten to college graduation – is viewed solely as vocational training.
We regularly ask elementary school students what they will be like when they grow up. and that doesn’t mean we want to know their desires or aspirations regarding their goals, or what kind of parent or spouse they will be.
We want to know what they will do in life.
We regularly ask high school graduates going to college what they plan to major in. If they say something like ‘philosophy’ or ‘women’s studies’, we say, ‘What kind of job will you get with this degree?’ »
Ironically, the liberal arts, where young people learn what have come to be known as “soft skills,” can prepare them for a multitude of jobs.
But it avoids a troubling reality – our society has commodified education, just as it has commodified health care, the environment, water, and other necessities that probably shouldn’t have a price.
We value education mainly for its professional reward. and we do so at our own risk.
Over the past few years, the pandemic has taught us that understanding the historical context, distinguishing good information from bad, and knowing the scientific method can literally be a matter of life and death.
Education cannot simply be a means of gaining access to employment. It must teach us to be citizens.
ERIC POOLE is editor of the Herald. Contact him by email at [email protected], or by phone at 724-854-5266 or 724-981-6100 ext. 247.