I was struck by this acknowledgement that law school and the bar, both legendary in their rigor, were so disconnected from legal careers. I say this as one who works in a field, education, in which our university programs are widely believed to provide inadequate preparation for the classroom, even with extensive field experiences and student teaching under the mentorship of an experienced teacher.
Work realities are difficult to prepare for through academic courses, despite the new premise common among policymakers that only academic subjects that prepare people directly for jobs deserve public funding. Here, for instance, is Gov. Rick Scott of Florida: “We don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state. … I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering and math degrees. That’s what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on, those types of degrees, so when they get out of school, they can get a job.”
But let’s say that I get straight A’s in all of my science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses. Will I then be able to enter the workforce directly and successfully? I have doubts that solving abstract math problems in school will lead directly to a successful career as a computer lab technician.
An education, it turns out, serves purposes other than direct job training. In college, I got a broad liberal arts education that engaged me with history’s greatest thinkers and helped me reflect with care about the human condition. I consider that to have been great training for the life I’ve lived and, indirectly, the career I’ve undertaken. I had no idea in high school or college that I was preparing for a career as a teacher and, ultimately, a researcher; those decisions came later.
Assuming that school serves only as a site for job training misses the point of learning and the complexities of work. I think it’s far too costly an assumption to engrave in educational policy.