It seems more and more frequent that American culture is substituting training for education, yet what is simply training is being passed off as if it’s education. In this article you will learn some ways by which to recognize how education distinguishes itself from training and hopefully how to avoid being duped into mistaking the latter for the former.
1. The -ing Rule
Take a look at various fields of study. One possible clue that a subject consists in training rather than in education is if its title includes the suffix -ing. Examples of training include accounting, marketing, and advertising. Examples of possible education include English, history, literature, physics, philosophy, and psychology (in other words, areas collectively known as the liberal arts). This -ing rule is not hard and fast, but it often works surprisingly well.
2. The Goals of Training are Different Than the Goals of Education
Training usually consists in treating the trainee as a means rather than as an end. Education treats the development of the student as an end in itself. If you’re being trained, that usually means that you’re being groomed to look attractive to potential employers who will view you as means to their profits. If you’re educating yourself, it’s about your personal development first, and your contribution to a culture falls into place after that. If you’ve ever been in therapy, think of education as being something akin to battling codependency, whereby you’re to heal yourself before casting about trying to please everyone else.
3. Experiment with Some Role Models
This idea is important in terms of educating yourself that you study others who have educated themselves. This is especially true today when even those alleged to be good role models have often been trained rather than educated.
I’m going to list just a tiny fraction of possible role models for education, in no particular order. Of course they reflect some of my biases: Friedrich Nietzsche, Socrates, Virginia Woolf, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Hermann Hesse, John Stuart Mill, Vincent van Gogh, Jean-Jacques Rousseau . . .
There is no absolute end to this list, but those are a few folks who educated themselves (and usually others) in various ways. Study their lives/works. You might even choose your living professor(s) as role models.
4. The Textbook Rule
In addition to the -ing rule in Step One, there’s another general rule that often helps to distinguish education from training. We’ll call this the Textbook Rule. If you find that you’re reading a lot of big expensive textbooks instead of “real” books, chances are this means that you’re coming closer to being trained than you are to educating yourself. This is less true in the sciences (which rely more heavily on textbooks) than in the humanities, but the main idea is that textbooks tend to be overvalued (and overpriced) when you can glean a lot more educational value from a used paperback that costs in the single digits. An example would be if you go to the student bookstore prior to enrolling in a course, there is a single “tome” that stands out as the main text and it costs in the three digits. This often means you’re going to be trained and/or taught by rote as opposed to exploring education.
5. Differences Between Textbooks and “Real” Books
Step 4 cautioned about textbooks. However, the sad fact of the matter is that education has become so obscured by training that I’m not sure most students know the difference between textbooks and “real” books anymore. A textbook might be called An Introduction to Risk Management, whereas a “real” book is something like Thoreau’s Walden, Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, or Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground. Note that none of those works mentioned is even lengthy. A “real” book can be very short, and this is a good way to get started in order to find out if a particular author touches something in you that you may wish to explore more thoroughly. What is a “real” book may generally be distinguished from a textbook by its tendency to draw you into a dialogue with it. Textbooks tend to be one-way streets, i.e., this is how you do something, or this is the way things are. Real books pose questions that are implicit and are not completely answered. Textbooks tend to provide ready-made answers and then list their corresponding questions at the ends of chapters.
6. It’s Your Education
After having read the preceding steps, you might be saying “but what I study is dictated by professors, I can’t just run off and read whatever I want to read”. This is a cop-out. You have choices in which courses and professors to pursue, not to mention what you read “on your own.” There’s also an underutilized aspect to most colleges; it’s called “independent study.” This usually consists in choosing a professor under whom to study and then agreeing upon a reading list with them. You then meet in one-on-one sessions with your professor at various times throughout the semester, usually culminating in a paper or other project. These meetings can be at all different times and locations, from the doughnut shop at 8:00 a.m. all the way to the watering hole at midnight. Or you can be more regimented and meet your professor in office hours on a set schedule. So, you’re paying for your courses, for your professor and ultimately for your education. There’s nothing wrong with opting to be trained instead of participating in educating yourself, as long as you’re aware that you’re being trained rather than educated.
Tips & Warnings
- This article emphasizes books for the sake of brevity, but other media such as the visual arts, the performing arts, and laboratory work also “count”.
- You don’t have to be an official student in order to educate yourself. You can be a person previously trained yet thirsting to educate yourself. Libraries and used bookstores are wonderful.
- Courses, books, and professors only matter if you engage them with effort and wonder.