Posted: September 24, 2019 by Kelly Murphy-Redd
Education and Economic Development
The Pendulum Always Swings

Going to college, has for decades, been the ultimate goal in order to have a future. That future, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. But most people have looked at a good education as the precursor to getting a good job and perhaps providing for a family. People have also strived to be fulfilled and happy. It has been said education itself, makes one a more well-rounded person.

Then businesses and economic developers started to talk to educational institutions about how they were preparing students for the future. Are they getting a degree in something that will give them a job? Many students weren’t really interested in college but were still bright and talented. These students could get certifications and land jobs with skills companies actually needed. However, there are parents who think there is a stigma somehow to what they perceive as “vocational training.” Student loan debt has continued to stay in the news. The expense of college can be prohibitive for some.

In Okaloosa County, “CHOICE” schools were created where CAD certifications and others were earned. Students could go right into the workplace from high school earning a very good wage. There are “STEM” academies. Educational institutions have embraced this new culture. Through programs like the EDC’s Educate the Educators Plus One, teachers and students tour local companies. Thanks to the Hsu Educational Foundation, students also attend the EDC’s TeCMEN Industry Day where they can meet potential future employers and experience what it is like to attend a professional trade expo. 

Much progress has been made towards matching skills taught with career opportunities available; more and better jobs being the goal. A job gives the employee the potential for survival, wealth building, fulfillment and contributing to the community’s well-being economically as well as socially.

I recently read an article Peggy Noonan wrote for the Wall Street Journal where she discussed a book she read by a professor and former dean of Yale Law School. It started me thinking about this pendulum of education.

Ms. Noonan explores the premise in the book that higher education has swung too far in the direction of only a job matters. I believe the worry is, that in failing to be educated in the humanities whereby the big questions/issues of life are explored, a person’s character, humanity and critical thinking are not developed in a way that prepares them to find out who they are as opposed to what they do for a living. The argument is made that students educated beyond job skills are better prepared to function in a more creative, inspirational way with a respect for great history and achievement that has gone before. This is a legitimate area for discussion.

Now I am sure that any serious person would not advocate for degrees in Star Trek, UFO-ology, Puppetry or Popular Culture; which actually do exist. But even Philosophy as a major won’t get you very far. Governor DeSantis made the comment at the last Gulf Power Symposium that many students who got degrees in Zombie Studies didn’t understand why the seas did not part for them.

However, I would ask the former Yale Law School dean what he thinks about college campuses that clamp down on free speech and expression, students violently protesting any ideas that are counter to their own. What about the “safe spaces” and mental health counseling for students who “don’t feel safe” when professors defend a client they deem not defendable? Allowing students to skip school when they are upset with current events. The question here is what colleges are really teaching young people if they cannot feel “safe” among diverging opinions. There is a balance to be achieved when encouraging students to figure out who they are. This is also a legitimate area for discussion.  

The pendulum always swings far to one side and then the other. The question we may ask is whether we need to discuss balance and where the opportunities might lie for achieving that balance.