Liberal vs. practical education

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 14, 2007

To the editor:

Changes in our society affect the school curriculum.

The growth of public education and its course offerings has undergone a tremendous revolution (change) from earlier years. The needs of society, to a large degree, dictate what is taught in public schools.

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Schools are organized to educate the youth into accepted value patterns of society.

The concerns and criticism of public schools have multiplied. Today, many newspapers, magazines, journals, periodicals and books feature education as the centerpiece.

Liberal vs. practical education has resurfaced as a major concern in modern-day education. Liberal educators basically believe that schools should prepare students for the college experience and to become critical thinkers.

Advocates of a practical education or vocational (technical) education do not deny that liberal education is needed.

They believe this takes place in required courses.

It is also believed that education is not just a matter of training the mind. Education is a social concern. Today, business and industry require high school graduates to offer some marketable skills in return for jobs.

Advocating a practical education is not aimed at any particular group or individuals of a specific economic status. It is not tracking nor should it be viewed as a throwback to the Booker T. Washington vs. W. E. B. Du Bois debate. They had different philosophies.

Booker T. Washington advocated an industrial (vocational) education, whereas Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois favored a more liberal one. Some historians believe the difference occurred because of their educational background.

The early schools were known as Latin grammar schools. The basic curriculum was concerned with moral and liberal education. The subject matter centered on a study of the classics and the Bible. This education was not sufficient to meet the demanding and changing needs of society. The academy began to offer practical subjects because Benjamin Franklin and other citizens recognized the needs of a changing society.

Then, the public high school and its curriculum further reflected the needs.

Today, the school to work program readies students who want to become employed after graduating from high school. A case in point, practical education is greatly needed to satisfy the demands of the automobile manufacturing industry in Alabama. Thousands of jobs have been created in the automobile manufacturing industry in recent years in the state.

A strong background in general education with a concentration in practical (vocational) education will greatly benefit the needs of some students. Vocational and technical education help keep students in school as well as making them more productive when they graduate.

Gerald Shirley

Principal, School of Discovery