The main objectives of schooling (and how mainstream higher ed is retreating on some of them)

In a 1990 lecture at the Harvard Extension School, renowned educator Mortimer Adler identified what he believed to be the “three main objectives of schooling”:

  • “preparation for earning a living”
  • “preparation for intelligent fulfillment of one’s civic duty, to be a good citizen of the republic” and,
  • “preparation for fulfilling one’s moral obligation to lead a morally good life.”

Each objective, Adler noted, would be “enriched by the continuation of learning after all schooling is terminated.”

Last week, I wrote about how many American colleges and universities are embracing the values of the New Gilded Age and retreating from their obligations to help us create a better society. Adler’s main objectives of schooling offer a useful framework for that critique.

Plenty of schools are emphasizing jobs and careers, and that’s fine. A college education should enhance someone’s employability and facilitate their vocational future. But this shouldn’t occur at the expense of preparing students to become useful, knowledgeable citizens and helping them grow into better human beings.

Indeed, one of the perverse ripple effects of the economic meltdown is how so many standard brand universities are cutting back on instruction that might shed insights on the very political, economic, social, and moral dynamics that led us to the Great Recession in the first place! More concretely, this has manifested itself in the decline of the liberal arts and humanities in the basic college curriculum.

Especially given the runaway costs of higher education, I understand the significance of a college education having some “return on investment” in terms of the job market. But it must be about more than economic gain. A higher ed industry that simply readies the next generation of worker bees is failing our society. We need a world of good workers, good citizens, and good people, with hopefully most of us possessing a healthy mix of all three qualities.

2 responses

  1. I just saw a TV ad tonight for Grand Canyon University, advertising a “Christian” college education. Isn’t this the same private college I saw exposed on 60 Minutes a couple of years ago? YES. Seems the CEO of the college has NO college education but does really well in the stock market. The MO is to buy up private universities that are already Regionally Accredited, then turn them into the highest possible profit centers. Oh yes, the Regional Accreditation qualifies the school for using the Federal student loan program.
    And what about ITT Technical Institute? They are not Regionally Accredited but were just purchased after being taken down by the Feds for predatory lending. Then there is the University of Phoenix. They settled a qui tam case for misuse of Federal funds a few years back. It’s ALL about the money…follow the money~!
    And how about the expose on Bill Moyers about how our public school system is being pillaged by more corporate vipers:
    Education? It’s pretty much a mess right now. When there are few morals, skewed ethics, and greed at the top, the dishonesty and corruption for profit at all cost rolls downhill. More greed, more money, less education, less working class, more poverty. Guess I’m not feeling very positive right now. OK, we have to get a clear view of the problems before we can create some positive solutions. I’m still on board but it’s tough to keep seeing the truth flashed in front of me and still no real effort for reform in view.

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