I read a very perceptive opinion piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal by Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC-5). She is the Chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and will be the Ranking Member in the new Congress.
The piece entitled “Stop Calling it ‘Vocational Training'” dealt with the how we refer to vocational and technical education offered by vo-tech schools and community colleges as opposed to “higher education” offered in in 4-year colleges and universities. Foxx is well placed to discuss this as long before she entered politics she was a community college president in North Carolina.
Those who earn what people usually call vocational and technical degrees have long been viewed as inferior to those who graduate with a series of letters after their names. If you went to school to learn a trade, you must be lesser, because someone long ago decided that college should be called “higher” education. Considering the state of colleges and universities today, the word “higher” may be the most misleading of them all.
Foxx goes on to say that how we speak about education reeks of class snobbery. If a poor kid goes to a 4-year school, he or she has risen above their background. Conversely, if a middle class kid goes into a technical field, we say he or she “didn’t live up to expectations.” This, of course, ignores the fact that an apprentice welder can earn upwards of $60,000 annually to start as compared to many liberal arts graduates struggling to earn $30,000 a year.
Foxx then goes on to discuss an experience that she had in graduate school at UNC-Greensboro which I think goes beyond community college versus “higher education”.
One of the few lessons that stuck with me from all the courses I took on the way to earning my Ed.D. came during a classroom discussion that sparked my passion for changing the way we talk about education. I’ll never forget how the professor responded to a student who used the word “training.” Training, the professor admonished, was for animals. Humans receive an education.
We can’t keep speaking of people as if they are animals. Whether an individual acquires a skill credential, a bachelor’s degree, a postgraduate degree or anything in between, it’s all education.
We speak of the need to get firearms training. This is offered by firearms trainers. However, should we not start calling it firearms education? It does after all involve learning and is offered in a class. We are being taught how to use a tool safely which is no different in essence than a surgeon being taught how to operate specialized OR equipment. Furthermore, advanced classes delve into human behavior and how to respond to dangerous, criminal, and abnormal behaviors. Think William Aprill.
Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow deals with the dichotomy of thought between instinctive and logical. The former or System 1 deals with fast and instinctive thought while the latter or System 2 is more deliberative, slow, and logical. In the firearms education context, System 1 is where many, if not most, concentrate their teaching. System 2 or the slower, more deliberative, and logical approach is what is covered by Massad Ayoob and Andrew Branca when dealing with the aftermath of a defensive gun use.
Virginia Foxx is correct that words matter when it comes to education. Training is what you do with your Labrador Retriever. Educating and teaching is what people like Tom Givens, Massad Ayoob, William Aprill, Greg Ellifritiz, and other “firearms trainers” do. From now on, education is how we should refer to what we as humans do in classes dealing with firearms. At least, I plan to do so.