Training versus education

September 17, 2021 • 2:30 pm

Today’s sermon, from Inside Higher Ed, draws a distinction between what schools are supposed to be for—education—and what they’re doing to train students about proper ways of thinking about diversity, especially when they enter college. (Click on the screenshot to read.) The authors’ mini-bios are at the bottom of the post:

And here are their premises:

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, colleges and universities across the country have enthusiastically embraced training as a tool to promote racial justice. These trainings go by different names, including sensitivity training, diversity training and antiracism training.

Here are some things training is good for: customer service, Excel and CPR. One thing it’s not good for: diversity, equity and inclusion.

At a time when trainings are proliferating across institutions of higher learning, people could be forgiven for confusing training with education. But they are vastly different and should be seen as such especially when it comes to issues of diversity. The purpose of education, bell hooks reminds us, is critical thinking. Requiring “courage and imagination,” the “heartbeat of critical thinking is the longing to know — to understand how life works.” With hooks’s words in mind, here are 10 ways to tell training and education apart.

Training makes assumptions; education challenges them.

Training is packaged; education cannot be contained.

Training rewards compliance, education curiosity.

Training is having to say something, education having something to say.

Training tells you what to think; education teaches you how to think.

Training answers questions; education poses them.

Training is generic; education all about context.

Training simplifies the world; education reveals its complexity.

Training promotes conformity, education independence.

Training is performative; education is transformative.But training is woefully inadequate when it comes to confronting social problems such as poverty, discrimination and racism. These are long-standing, knotty and complex issues that defy ready-made solutions. Any serious effort to address them must start with education, a process for which there are no shortcuts.

Consider these two hypothetical examples of a college trying to deal with issues of race and diversity. The first is a prototypical training module; the second takes an educational approach.

You can peruse these two forms of training in the article; the “prototypical training model,” probably found more often in secondary schools than in colleges is a bit exaggerated for most institutions (it’s certainly not applicable to mine), but bits of it are par for the course in many colleges.

The second approach will not be used because it involves discussion and thought, and things that might offend people. But in the end, I have to agree with the authors, for I think discussion is unifying and propaganda is divisive. And what better way to start one’s college education with an educational agenda?

Often proven to be superficial and ineffective, diversity training should not be the default response for institutions. Instead, colleges and universities should invest in the most powerful tool of all to combat racial injustice: education.


Authors (from the article):

Amna Khalid (@AmnaUncensored) is associate professor in the history department and Jeffrey Aaron Snyder (@JeffreyASnyder) is associate professor in the educational studies department at Carleton College. Their writing on education, censorship, diversity and social justice has appeared in CNN, The Conversation and The New Republic.

19 thoughts on “Training versus education

      1. Indeed, although its first use goes back to 1834. That surprised me, but didn’t stop me getting rid of it from the piece I was proofreading!

  1. I am glad that you provided this article. When i taught high school in the 1970’s, each year i spent some time helping my students understand how training differed from education. When i served on a local school board in the 80’s and 90’s, one of my board colleagues helped some other board members understand by asking them whether they preferred sex education or sex training for their daughters (yes-daughters … it was the 80’s). K12 likes to buy curriculum packages, a course in a box, which generally turn out to be training packages. In particular teacher training at the start of each year is called just that …training…full stop. So my biggest fear on application of critical race theory is that rather than have the faculty confront the content of the traditional history and civics curriculum, which here in the South (U.S.) is entirely unsatisfactory, school boards will approve the purchase of simple training packages, most likely in the Kendian mode, and apply them across the board to faculty and staff, rather than have a mcwhorter or randall kennedy or pluckrose/lindsay, or lukianoff/haidt discussion.

  2. Diversity training is akin to a catechism. I went through it in the late 1990s so it’s not new. Corporations and institutions go through with it to cover their rears. Very common in authoritarian regimes. What does this really say about us? But outcomes across the board continue to be worse on average for Blacks.

  3. Training is favoured by bureaucrats because you can tick the box (“we’ve dealt with the diversity issue”) and you can buy a prepackaged training kit (or, these days, an app) and/or bring in some self-appointed training expert. Expensive but easier than thinking.

    1. “[A]nd you can buy a prepackaged training kit (or, these days, an app) and/or bring in some self-appointed training expert” – and that’s exactly the opportunity that ideological zealots are looking to exploit and put themselves forward for. In the UK the Diversity Champions programme, launched twenty years ago by Stonewall, has done just that. Employers – many of them very high profile, such as the BBC, British armed forces, and government bodies including the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – signed up to be certified as meeting the programme’s standards. They presumably did so because of Stonewall’s status and name recognition in the LGBTQIAP+ field.

      I’m not sure about its early history, but at some point the programme seems to have begun to push an agenda that is well in advance of the consensus on trans rights – in one case it was alleged that the advice it had given about legal aspects had been misleading. Following claims of corporate capture by the Diversity Champions programme and exposure of the stance it was pushing, some of Stonewall’s founders left the organisation and there has been an exodus of the organisations that had signed up. But by then, of course, the trans activists’ agenda had already been incorporated in their Human Relations policies and procedures.

      1. Stonewall is an example of an organisation that has been a victim of its own success. Founded as a reaction to Section 28, its original purpose was to promote gay and lesbian rights. By the mid 2010s, the battle had largely been won in the UK, making the organisation redundant. They then turned to pushing an extreme position on transgender rights that even many lesbians and gay men disagree with. But that was the only way to keep the money coming in.

  4. “Instead, colleges and universities should invest in the most powerful tool of all to combat racial injustice: education.”
    That hit it on the head well and truly.
    A footnote I believe for a student would be that, education does not end at the Uni, or college gate.

    Education broadly speaking to my mind ‘trains’ a student (any student, I consider myself a student of life) to inquire, satisfy interests, reserve conclusions, be engaged, be on guard for bollock perpetuation, seek better explainations.
    Neverending education makes for a fascinating educational life, but sometimes I need to ‘garden’ to give it a rest…

  5. The problem with education is that the facts are often not on the side of those pushing the DEI agenda, so teaching people to question, think critically, and not follow the herd may actually undermine their efforts. Conformity and compliance are a better fit when you want to inculcate a dogmatic ideology.

    I agree that education is the better for society, of course.

  6. Liberal Arts education developed in the Italian City States, and were intended to prepare citizens to participate in political and civic life, which was a conceived of as a process of dialogue. Training was, of course, characteristic of the rest of Europe, which was feudal, and did want or desire civic participation from the commoners or political involvement, just workers who stayed in the box that society ascribed to them. This was good, because feudal Europe was never under threat of being taken over by fascists or white supremacists, and they had powerful centralized monarchies appointed by the will of God to protect them from misinformation and fake news, in contrast to the wicked Italian Republics.

    Its nice to see that American education is preparing our youth to be future nonparticipants in a system controlled entirely by powerful elites with no feedback or dialogue. That way, if the fig leaf of democracy is pulled away, rather than be shocked they will simply remain in their station, obey, and be well prepared to exist in a totalitarian political system. We have always been at war with Oceania because they are against Diversity, Inclusivity and Equity.

    1. Interesting that you mention the Italian City States. In the Republic of Venice, the Doge was selected
      by an enormously complicated process (see Wiki), to minimize corruption and influence-peddling by
      single families. And after a Doge’s rule ended (normally by his death). a commission of inquiry would
      assess his administration in retrospect, and fine his estate if any funny business was uncovered.

  7. Education is first prize and I agree with all of the above. However, training is an important aspect of the economy. We need electricians, plumbers, fitters & turners. Some of our best critical thinkers come from the ranks of those who underwent training rather than spent 4 years at university learning about CRT 🙂

  8. It seems to me that there is much relativity (maybe ‘relativeness’ is a better word) in thinking about what’s training versus education. I specialized in pure mathematics. A joke: “pure is a 4-letter word”, said one prof decrying the difficulty, say compared to computer science, in convincing able students to seriously consider pure math.

    I regarded much of what I taught in 1st year calculus more as training than straightforward education, i.e. much of ‘how to do it’, without as much as one would prefer of explaining why the procedure is always correct. Similarly, usually 2nd year level, teaching differential equations to engineering students, where almost the entire programme is training, it simply went without question that it was ‘cookbook methods’ for getting the solution, with inadequate explanation of why it works. At least there you can substitute your found solution back into the equation to at least show it IS a solution, though to show uniqueness, that there are NO OTHER solutions, would usually be ignored.

    However, most people in education would tend to think both those things fall more clearly under education than training. Quite naturally, training is often expected to be learning how to do some particular job as well as possible, e.g. being a chemical engineer. On the other hand, I’d bet that Chem Eng at MIT is saturated with basic theory. I’d be rather surprised if none of their grads had ever won a Nobel Prize.

    Even more in this direction, I have recently studied a number of things which lead me to suspect that North American philosophy education, undergrad and postgrad, seems to have far from ideal TRAINING in formal logic, such courses and surely everything about philosophy falling easily into the education side for just about everybody.

    I realize that these remarks veer away somewhat from the main concern here.

  9. Did I or did I not receive an education ?

    I studied physics. We were not encouraged to challenge what was being taught to us. When a student would not understand something, if coureagous enough, that student would sometimes point that what had just been said seemed at odds with another well established physics fact. That is the most challenging that we ever were (except for me). At the end, the course, the books were always right, the student had just misunderstood. We were not really challenging the course, we were convinced from the get go that it was 100% correct and that we were confused. If few students would ask that kind of question, it was a good sign that they undestood everything and were sharp. If anyone seriously challenged the content being taught, the teachers did not like it (believe me, I should know).

    In the end I found myself asking a lot of questions but challenged in the true sense of the word very little : a fawlty demonstration here and there, a simplification that I could not quite swallow, and of course a seminar on cosmology (I challenged the relevance of theories of the pre-Big-Bang taking into account the fact that comologists had been telling us for decades that there was not “before” the Big-Bang). Again : challenges were not encouraged.

    So : am I educated ?

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