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Dr. James Michael Nolan

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Is Education Supposed to Be About Getting Jobs?

Posted: 07/18/2012 3:31 pm

Is Education Supposed to Be About Getting Jobs?

Because Southwestern College embraces what some people consider the lofty mission statement "Transforming Consciousness through Education," I am especially sensitive to the culture's current call for affordable, sustainable education that leads to jobs, to careers. The suggestion, sometimes, is that consciousness and good, sustainable jobs do not go together. I happen to think they do.

When I start thinking hard about this stuff, I start drifting in the direction of wondering what the primary purpose of higher education is, or should be. Jobs and careers are great, and many would like for every degree to lead swiftly and directly down the highway to a career. I feel pretty certain that for many of us, past, present, and future, it simply will not be that linear and neat.

So while I think having a career for the sake of having a career is OK, I am also an enormous fan of the scenic route, of education that expands consciousness, focuses on personhood and character, depth of engagement with the world, and third level Kohlbergian values. I am not at all suggesting that these are mutually exclusive, but I will say that I believe students often get either one or the other, or, say, four parts one to one part of the other.

I have to share a bias, too, in the direction of students learning deep inquiry, pursuing self-knowledge, and striving toward inner knowing. I find that these qualities, or habits, or behaviors, or awarenesses, once internalized and owned, will become part of one's core way of being in the world. That is huge. They then filter, transform, and potentiate subsequent life experiences, acquired skills and accumulated knowledge.

So while it is good to know that transformacion is the Spanish word for transformation, and that it has a French etymology, it is better to know what true transformation is, and better again to have experienced it oneself.

What would the difference in experience be between someone who works through an advanced degree in Counseling Psychology without having really done much self-inquiry, but is highly successful in academics, versus someone who has a deep sense of who they are, what values they hold most closely to their heart, and who has experienced deeply some of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and the joy on the healing side of it all?

We can focus on education that will help you get a job. We can also focus on making sure that you become the kind of person who brings greater inner depth and inner knowing both to your job/career seeking, and to being the most evolved and conscious Counseling Psychologist (or whatever) you can be, once you arrive there.

I was an English major, and that fact changed my life forever, in the profoundest of ways. Spending years cultivating a relationship with Shakespeare and Joyce, with beauty and creativity, and with my own developing psychology as it cascaded through and over the literature, was priceless. Transformation beyond articulation. And though I was a teaching assistant one year at UC Santa Barbara, I never otherwise directly "got a job" from that education.

Then again, the way the experience taught me to write and think and question and enjoy the richness of the human experience, probably got me into graduate school in psychology. It also probably relates significantly to my being in the president's role. So I guess one point is that some educational regimens, based more in inner knowing, inner development and emotional intelligence, may very well "lead to a job" or career, but perhaps not in the linear way we tend to think about it. You may head out to Arjuna's battlefield and end up trout fishing in America. But the Gita's timeless teachings transfer pretty well across environments and over serial careers. The time would not have been wasted, though you never got hired to teach Comp Lit.

Of course there are no definitive answers to what educational recipe best fits an entire populace, nor even one person. It's all worth some good, deep reflection, anyway.

I understand the recent increased volume in the call for education leading to jobs. I know the language of measurables, deliverables, outcomes and evidence. I just happen to believe there is a much less measurable and infinitely less effable world of processes and outcomes that we can too easily dismiss and discount because it is harder to see.

Reminds me of the kid looking for his lost quarter at night, not on the street where it was lost, but on the street with better light.

 

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