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Philosophical Meanderings

Education: Obfuscation, Metonym or Comparison Device?

During my 52-year trek to Utopia where I uncomfortably practice law, I fed cattle, pitched –it, picked rocks, baled hay and mended fences. I worked at fast-food places and apprehended shoplifters. I was a shop-rat, played cops and robbers, and was a Paramedic and a Paramedic Instructor. After 22 years of school and miscellaneous seminars, I note only the practice of law has involved much more than basic reading, writing and mathematical abilities.

Twenty-five years ago, several others and I started a business to train EMTs and Paramedics. EMS work was exciting (people got injured and died in amazing ways) and one working in the field could earn enough to survive. The training and learning were easy, involving skills and didactic components along with some clinical rotation time.

Back then, EMT through Paramedic training could be completed by attending about seven months of evening courses. The technical skills required ordinary manual dexterity and practice, and the minimal clinical rotations could be completed on weekends. The texts were short, straightforward and easy to read, and the written licensure tests were similarly straightforward.

Except for a few additional skills needed to handle new medical devices, the technical aspects have not changed since then. Today, hundreds of hours of clinical time are required. Today’s texts are about 1,200 pages long, and there are additional materials to read. Today’s licesure tests are difficult — 50% fail on the first attempt.

Working as an EMT or Paramedic is still exciting (people are still injured and die in amazing ways) and one can still earn enough to survive. What changed?

Some educators pushed the idea that EMTs and Paramedics need “critical thinking skills”. It is now far more difficult for one to obtain the credentials necessary for employment as an EMT or Paramedic today than twenty-five years ago. One needs additional language skills to read the “standard curriculum” texts and pass tests. There is a push toward requiring Paramedics to attend at least two, and maybe even four years of college.

I might think differently had I not been “educated”, but perhaps we should consider that “education” has been, and remains, a means of assuring that society remains stratified.

Will you/can you tell me what ‘education’ is?

Is it a pathway to success, a roadblock or an expensive boondoggle?

After one learns to read, write and perform basic mathematics, what is the purpose of “education” except for the need to meet exclusionary employment criteria?

Does the work of a plumber, carpenter or a maintenance engineer actually require a high school diploma or college degree?

About Brent Snavely

A construct of upbringing and society, holder of a BS. JD and an MA, I have practiced law more than 25 years. "The Truth shall set you free", but only if it is a Personal Truth that is based upon facts. Parrhesia may be humankind's only hope (see,


7 thoughts on “Education: Obfuscation, Metonym or Comparison Device?

  1. Well said! I think Parkinson’s Law is what is going on in education more often than that: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” I’m amazed that as we keep expanding the compulsory school age, extending the school day, and increasing homework, there are still many educationists who feel there isn’t enough time to teach people everything they need to know.

    Posted by Patrick Farenga | December 30, 2011, 1:51 pm
    • Patrick,

      The situation boggles my mind, and yet despite my misgivings, I have been considering doctoral work 🙂

      I do not think there is enough time to teach everything one ‘needs’ to know, or even to ‘learn’ it — maybe that is what one’s life is for.


      Posted by Brent Snavely | December 30, 2011, 4:36 pm
  2. I wonder if our (United States, affluent) middle class approach to higher education (You’re going to college…) and view of labor (…unless you want to wind up ______!) has created a generation or two of people who feel entitled to supervise something or someone, but who understand how to do much less than previous generations did.

    That would explain my decision to teach and the old-school-under-new-school-veneer vibe of my early career.

    I think education should be whatever it is we need to learn to help us live the lives we want in ways that help, rather than hurt, others.

    I think education “is” a deliverable – a hall pass – the kind of thing we “give” kids we trust and keep away from those who resist us. As such, it doesn’t seem all that distinguishable – in its current form – from a high status job or wealth. It’s power, rather than authority. A tool used as a weapon. A means confused as the end.

    There are some punk subcultures that I find just as exclusive, divisive, and supporting of the status quo – I mean, imagine if schools actually admitted the existence of this thing called “programming” – or of that other thing called “hardware engineering.” What would the hackers and smart phone scions do if we spent time learning how to create, manage, and share our own technology? What would the seed companies do if we could farm enough as neighborhoods to eschew the mega-marts few months a year?

    Education – at least our United States system of public education – is a commodity, bought, sold, and traded by billionaires and politicians. They’ve taken it from children.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | December 30, 2011, 3:00 pm
    • Chad,

      Did you have a a Eureka moment when you determined that “the old-school-under-new-school-veneer vibe” was not what you wanted to participate in? If so, did an accumulation of information, a series of events or particular event prompt you to shift gears or had you sensed for years that something was amiss and finally had enough?

      With appreciation for your opinion and teaching situation,

      Posted by Brent Snavely | December 30, 2011, 4:20 pm
  3. Hi Brent, I apologize if I am being very blunt its seems like “critical thinking skills” and if I may add all the other terms used today like global integrated education, 21st century skills plus a bunch of others are the words being used (and interpreted for a self interest system to dress up hidden intentions in order to add more so technically advanced intellect (free of knowledge to feed the heart & spirit) for opportunity to make more profits at the expense of people, students as usual, because unfortunately till today we are still living inside this egotistical system. Hopefully this will change otherwise our future will be even more devastating. Personally, your question, “Will you/can you tell me what ‘education’ is?” is the question of the century. Thank you for your article!
    All the best

    Posted by ruth avraham | December 30, 2011, 3:04 pm
    • Ruth,

      Thanks for your input.

      Perhaps we all need to be blunt. I tend to view “critical thinking skills”, rather simplistically, as the ability to detect BS. To the extent humans are unable to detect it, I suppose those skills ‘need’ to be developed. Unfortunately, the focus on verbal abilities only seems to lead to more subtle forms of BS — this is something akin to ‘churning’ the market.

      Best wishes,

      Posted by Brent Snavely | December 30, 2011, 4:27 pm

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