In this “high-tech” era we have been emphasizing the need for more science and engineering courses. Yet in today’s complex world the most highly trained engineer, technician, or scientist note that I said trained cannot know what to do under changing social, political, or economic conditions without having at least a rudimentary understanding of history, government, and economics. More importantly, what background and knowledge do highly skilled and highly trained people have to cope with the challenges and changes they face in life? What resources do they have to enhance their lives when not working? Without exposure to the great knowledge and intellectual excitement mankind has created and made available, too many of our college graduates are simply becoming well-trained modern artisans. They do not even know what they are missing because our educational system is failing them. A college education has got to be more than a work permit. The problem is that too many of our colleges are trying to figure out what they should be by listening too closely to what their consumers say they want. Our universities are trying to provide what the employers want and to give the students what students think they want in order to get a job immediately upon graduation. I am convinced that colleges and universities which respond too readily to those demands are shortchanging their students. At least in part, this is because even the beneficiaries of education do not know clearly what they want and need. Let’s look at the ambivalence of both the employers and employees as to what they think they want. Employers have both short-term and long-term expectations. They expect a graduate to come out of college with preparation to do a specific, narrow task defined by his or her degree major. If she’s an architect or engineer they expect her to design a span that will not fall down. If he’s an accountant, he should be able to keep books, analyze financial reports, and apply cost-accounting techniques to a production line. But those same employers expect that same accountant 5 or 10 years later to understand and apply economics to company decisions and government policies on money supply and interest rates. They complain if the employee can’t relate balance of payment deficits to policies on tariffs; they complain that the employee is unaware of any historical precedents for current events affecting the company. Employers are concerned that too many employees are so narrow that they are totally ignorant of art, music, drama, literature. They wonder how a college graduate can be so uninformed about relating to people, so inept in dealing with foreign cultures, so void of any philosophical underpinnings to explain human and personal behavior, so unaware of the realities of the impact of alternative company policies on the public or other businesses, so vacuous in personal conversation. Why are these workers so uninterested and so uninteresting? So employers have still more exacting even if less exact expectations for the long run than for the short term. But what about the students? In too many cases they are so very clear about what they want from a college education. Yet, students also change their own attitudes toward what their education should give them. Recent studies show that most college graduates upon graduation want, above all else, immediate employable skills. Two or three years later, they say they wish they had taken more math and science and statistics, or more writing. A few years later they wish they had had more human relations work and studies in psychology and the social sciences. Ten years out, they wish they had had more humanities and fine arts. It is not until much later `that they begin to comprehend fully what they missed. An educator said one time that judging the success of a college education by measuring the perfect match of degree majors with jobs taken upon graduation would be like taking the score at the end of the first inning of a baseball game as the final score. After all, the average American works in three different careers and seven different jobs in a working lifetime. College should not be exclusively focused upon preparing graduates for a specific career or job upon graduation. Life has at least eight more innings to go. I like Norman Hackerman’s observation about the mistake of letting young people plan their own .education: “We forget that students don’t know what they don’t know.” Here’s one fact about Texas higher education that leaps out at you. Texas is far behind the national average in requiring a .foreign language for college graduation. Yet we share an international border with a country where English is not the primary language. In China they like to tell this story. What is a person called who speaks three languages? Trilingual. And a person who speaks two languages? Bilingual. And how about a person who speaks only one language? An American. The United States is the only country in the world where a person can be considered truly educated and not be multi-lingual. I believe proficiency in a second language should be a requirement for college graduation. It is the responsibility of our universities to lead and cajole and entice and inveigle and trick students intotaking more humanities and liberal arts courses. Every student should get a substantial amount of liberal education irrespective of field or degree major. The curriculum should ensure that a graduate with a bachelor’s degree will be conversant with the best that has been thought and written about the human condition. We are not doing that today and the penalty we pay is immense. We should all be disturbed about some recent findings on the education of teachers. The data compiled the Southern Regional Education Board and in a follow-up study in Texas show that education majors are taking far more education courses than they need for their degrees or teaching certificates. The education students eat up their electives in more education courses rather than in taking courses in other colleges or in the liberal arts. And even many of the subject-matter courses are merely methods courses in how to teach one of the liberal arts or science or social science fields rather than substantive courses in the fields. To Be Continued THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19
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