Jobs and Education and Training

Sat, 12 Oct 1996 18:23:00 CDT

Wade Tarzia has hit the nail on the head -- it's about adaptation, folks!
However, I believe that there is also a transformation going on and a subtext in
the "To get a good job, get a good education" myth.

First of all, Wade's experience with not having one specific skill is not
unique. My wife and I have both been through this. The bloom in technical and
community college courses is more an extension of "training" than education. In
the past, an "educated" person with several years of experience writing in
special areas would qualify for a position as a "technical writer." In the past
decade or so, however, a number of colleges -- usually the community and
technical colleges, again -- have introduced specific courses in "technical"
writing. If you don't have THAT course on your transcript, it seems that little
else matters these days --even though a) when you were an undergrad 15 years ago
no such course existed and b) what one learns in "technical" writing is (one
hopes) not much more than in any good writing course -- clear, concise writing.

Second, I sense that this sort of "credentialling" by very specific ocurses on
the transcript are a part of the corporate model that is encroaching on
education generally. These models tend to emphasize skills over knowledge and
aptitude over creativity. It is the hallmark of many "school-to-work" programs
and also many special enrichment programs. Before I left Boston I got into a
public disagreement with a head of a biotech corporation. In exchange for their
"work-study" program, they were expected the whole science curriculum in the
Boston Public Schools to be redesigned so that the graduates that came to their
company were essentially pre-trained. When I asked him how many jobs there were
for these graduates on an annual basis (20 real, full-time jobs per year over
the next 3-5 years, he thought), I challenged him to justify why we should turn
an entire school system into a training program for his company and ignore all
the rest of the things that they shouyld learn about science. He spent the rest
of the session referring to me as "Mr. Radical" (I did correct him, Wade. I
said, "You may call me DOCTOR Radical."). But for him, science education meant
giving the students specific work skills that would allow about 1% of them to
have entry-level jobs. Not a bad selection for him to choose from.

I also got to teach a course in "Medical Terminology" at a technical college
outside Boston for a while. It was fun -- I taught it as a foreign language
course, stressing fluency and ease of expression. However, the reaction from
most of my colleagues in my research job was, "They teach a course in that?"
True, most of us learn the language of our professionals by becoming immersed in
it -- the same way we learn our first language. But now, these future
undertakers had a *course* in talking medicalese. So now they could go around
and say, "Man that exam was orchidoclastic!" and know what they were talking


Andrew J. Petto, Editor, National Center for Science Ed.
PO BOX 8880, MADISON WI 53708-8880
Wisconsin Teacher Enhancement Program in Biology
Madison Area Technical College, 3550 Anderson Street
MADISON WI 53704-2559

voice: 608/259-2926; fax:608/258-2415
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