Letter to the Editor: Scuba certification vs. college education

To the editor:

The ‘Scuba Model’ of learning is not the model used in College education….or HSchool….or GSchool….because Scuba Certification is all about skill development critical to the survival of the diver….and a scholastic education is all about information transfer (with the hope that some of it actually accretes).  Information Transfer is significantly NOT critical to the survival of the student (beyond the completion of the course in question) and retrieving a lost regulator is.  Once I pass 2nd semester, 19th century French Revolutionary History, the odds are actually VERY good that I will never need to know ANYTHING about Robespierre ever again.  I do not need, nor do I want, to be certified on the Reign of Terror.  Repetitive drilling on the Jacobins accomplishes exactly nothing.

A college education — especially a classic, Liberal Arts college education — is not so much about skill development (save in a very broad sense) as it is about ‘civilization’ and ‘enculturation’.   A well-trained Scuba Diver will not be expected to know the science behind Decompression Sickness or Oxygen Regulators…nor would they themselves expect (after completing a 3 day certification) to then recognize Picasso or quote Shakespeare or have some familiarity with American Foreign Policy over the last 100 years.   That’s not what the Certification is intended to do.

Equally it would be a mistake for a Liberal Arts Grad — post-diploma —  to expect to know how to clear a flooded face mask…..or weld two plates of steel….or put-up drywall…. or install a new toilet.

We are talking about the difference between Skill Training and Cultural Education….and that is why the learning models are different.

BUT — even at the Liberal Arts colleges, there are skills which are developed.  The problem is that those particular skills are ‘soft’ and not hard, though they are developed just like the skills associated with diving.  They are, of course, the skills we typically associate with Critical Thinking….with information storage and retrieval….with data manipulation and organization….and the skills associated with argument, debate, and the accumulation & presentation of evidence and proof.  Those are the skills drilled throughout the 4 year period and they are drilled in French History, Intro to Sociology, Poli Sci 201, Biology, Chemistry, Anthropology, etc.

Yes, indeed, we should have ” Less emphasis on high-stakes exams and more emphasis on learning”, but let us be clear what it is we’re trying to learn and why.

Tom Horrell