Think back. What happened in your third-grade classroom on this date in May? What did you learn that day?
The day was maybe six hours long, but by now it is an undistinguishable fragment of your education career. You don't remember what was going on in that place on that day, because it almost certainly is buried in your great mass of schoolroom experience.
Overall, you probably sat in various classrooms for eight school years or so of elementary education and four years of high school. How can you know what all that sitting contributed to who you are today?
And then maybe you went to college, and perhaps grad school. What exactly did all those hours do for you? It may be easier to identify specific payoffs from certain grad courses and from skills training courses and workshops -- but even some of that wasn't of use to you, or has been forgotten.
On the other hand, how much of what you know or do was acquired in one-on-one conversation you had and demonstrations you watched? And trial and error?
And how much knowledge and understanding, however it came to you, was absorbed and integrated into your immense mental capacity, the great dynamic that drives the thousands of tumbling thoughts, reactions and decisions that create and determine the days of your life?
It's useful to turn those memories and questions over in the mind as we witness -- or conduct -- considerations about education today and how we do it.
My Dad and I discussed the best purpose of education, specifically in terms of higher education, when I was preparing to go to Holy Cross, as he had done (Dad, Class of 1923; Jim, Class of 1958). We did not at all consider college to be skills training. It was to develop the mature person, the contributing citizen.
Occasionally, I have wondered over the years if that concept was too grand and somewhat empty, maybe too vague. Well, maybe not. Read on.
My daughter Maureen extended the Milliken-HC line with her 1983 English Lit degree, and likewise became a newspaper editor. A few years ago, she was quoted thusly in a Holy Cross magazine article:
My father did a lot of hiring during his newspaper career and always said that a good liberal arts education, combined with newspaper experience, was preferable to a journalism degree.
To that end, I believe I got a fantastic education - not only the subject matter, but the Jesuit emphasis on analysis and thinking, questioning and delving deeper. I see so many people in this business who just don't know how to think, how to question. You'd think in journalism it would be second nature, but with a lot of people it doesn't even occur to them.
On top of that, I find a lot of people have very limited world views, very limited knowledge of history and the world around them, and don't even have the smarts to realize they need to know more or the ability or curiosity to find it out.
In terms of newswriting, interviewing, deadline-meeting and other technical skills special to newspapering, Maureen picked them up easily, as I did and as I presume my Dad did, on the job. How? Using those superior skills, the ones she articulated so well.
I'm convinced that no particular day of school, or moment in class or conversation, was determinative in the development of my accumulated abilities to think, learn and communicate. I'm equally sure that the overall progress, the direction, the specific judgments were rooted in those long-ago exchanges with Dad. Plus the recent insights from my daughter.
Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Mo.