Objectives: Objectionable

You can hardly pass by a modern institute of education without hearing the phrase "objective-based instruction."  It's educator-speak for knowledge that is instantly applicable and useful.  Or, in the words of my students, "When are we ever gonna NEED this stuff?"

There is something seductive about that idea, that what we are learning in the classroom will be Useful In Real Life.  But in the end, is that the purpose of education -- to be useful in life?  I don't think so.  I think education is about improving your mind, body and soul -- ultimately, as all things, unto salvation.  Why did Socrates have a band of eager followers?  Why, for that matter, did Jesus?  I can't imagine His wide-eyed disciples were hoping to use Our Lord as a reference at their next interview.

So how crass, to reduce an education to the sum of its pragmatic parts: this recent piece in the Times, about law students who are up in arms about the fact that they can't land six-figure incomes on the way home from commencement, is an excellent case in point.

Last week my grad class took an interesting survey about the purpose of education.  Given eight categories, we were supposed to rank each one as a percent, so that all eight added up to a hundred.  Take a look, and if you have a minute, rate them yourself before looking to see what the public thinks:

  1. Arts and Literature: Capacity to participate in and appreciate the musical, visual, and performing arts. Development of a love of literature.

  2. Basic Academic Skills in Core Subjects: Reading, writing, math, knowledge of science and history.

  3. Citizenship and Community Responsibility: Knowledge of how government works and of how to participate in civic activities like voting, volunteering, and becoming active in communities.

  4. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: Ability to analyze and interpret information, use computers

  5. to develop knowledge, apply ideas to new situations.

  6. Emotional Health: Tools to develop self-confidence, respect for others, and the ability to resist peer pressure to engage in irresponsible personal behavior.

  7. Physical Health: A foundation for lifelong physical health, including good habits of exercise and nutrition.

  8. Preparation for Skilled Work: Vocational, career, and technical education that will qualify youths for skilled employment that does not require a college degree.

  9. Social Skills and Work Ethic: Good communication skills, personal responsibility, ability to get along well with others and work with others from different backgrounds.

I'll post my ratings in a day or two, along with an explanation.  In the meantime, discuss!