Speaking of Education

The exponential expansion of human knowledge and technology presents a major challenge to educators at all levels of teaching and learning. Even our knowledge of how people learn has increased to the point that many classroom teachers are bewildered, especially given the considerable individual and cultural diversity that characterizes their student populations.

Superimposed on these challenges are the government-imposed standards for K-12 schools related to standardized test scores. Indeed, we can become so preoccupied with the question of "what our students know" that we ignore the question of "how they know." We are at risk of failing to prepare our students to think critically, to reason, to express themselves articulately and even to know how to determine what information is useful and what isn't for particular purposes.

Foundations of education

In a special section of the March 10 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education (page B1) it is written: "The facts are stunning. More than 40 percent of students arrive on campus needing remedial work." Their lack of preparedness, as the articles reveal, is not based on a lack of information or technology skills per se, but rather on the types of competencies noted above that provide the broad foundation for effective participation in a knowledge economy, let alone for lifelong learning. Clearly, the development of these cognitive and behavioral competencies must begin in the earliest years of schooling, recognition of which led to the landmark taxonomy of educational objectives first published 50 years ago by Benjamin Bloom, David Krathwohl and their colleagues.

Issues of competencies reflecting breadth and depth of perspective continue, as they have historically, at the undergraduate level of education, in which the debate about educational objectives is framed by the constructs of "broad and general" versus "specialized and technical."

In an effort to integrate the best features of both emphases into a contemporary liberal education, the Association of American Colleges and Universities states: "Liberal education requires that we understand the foundations of knowledge and inquiry about nature, culture and society; that we master core skills of perception, analysis and expression; that we cultivate a respect for truth; that we recognize the importance of historical and cultural context; and that we explore connections between formal learning, citizenship and service to our communities" (see www.aacu.org/about/statements/liberal_learning.cfm).

Breadth and depth of perspective

At the graduate level of education, particularly that leading to the doctoral degree, it is often assumed that the teaching and learning goals focus only on the acquisition of very specialized and technical knowledge and skills. Not so, entirely, one would conclude from reading Chris Golde and George Walker's edited book, "Envisioning the Future of Doctoral Education: Preparing Stewards of the Discipline" (Jossey-Bass, 2006). Their analysis of the philosophies, goals and challenges of doctoral education in six disciplines (mathematics, chemistry, neuroscience, education, history and English) identifies both breadth and depth of understanding in the discipline as valued goals. Certainly doctoral research requires major in-depth work; but that work often leads to a better appreciation for the connectedness of knowledge between different areas within the same discipline, as well as across disciplines, resulting in a breadth of perspective.

In psychology, while breadth of doctoral education has not been universally accepted when defined in terms of a core curriculum or body of knowledge-see the 2001 American Psychologist (Vol. 56, No. 9, pages 735-742) article, "American Psychology's Struggles With its Curriculum," by Ludy T. Benjamin, PhD-it is possible to conceptualize more general competencies expected (see the question posed of the graduate education work group about this issue at the 2001 Education Leadership Conference: www.apa.org/ed/elc/group3.pdf).

For the applied areas of professional practice in psychology, moreover, there has been an historical emphasis that continues today to the effect that doctoral education should be "broad and general" rather than "narrow and technical," with specialization being more of a postdoctoral emphasis. What does this mean in terms of the competencies expected of students being prepared for licensed practice? What does "readiness for licensed practice" mean and how is it to be assessed?

It is an exciting time for APA's Education Directorate and Board of Educational Affairs. In collaboration with other educators within and outside psychology, we are working at all levels of education to address the question, "Education for what?" What competencies are we trying to develop in our students?

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