#107 Training is Not Education

the christian economist dave arnott

#107 Training is not Education

Training can effectively be measured by Return on Investment.  Education cannot.


Return on investment is an effective way to measure training.  It’s a terrible way to measure education.  The Wall Street Journal made three attempts recently to do this.   The first article is titled, Is college worth the cost?  The second is How Much MBA Debt should students take on?  And the third asks Should USC Push a $115,000 online degree?  The answers are: Yes, as little as possible, and no.

Let’s unpack.  “Is College Worth the Cost?”  “That depends,” answers the Wall Street Journal.  Problem is: They are trying to measure the unmeasurable.  A friend visited our home this week, whom I met as a freshman in college in the fall of 1973.  What’s a 48-year friendship worth?  You see, college is more than a diploma that’s used as a bludgeon to beat society over the head until it gives you want you want.  College is where we gain an understanding of our world.  That understanding is not always rewarded in dollars. 


What and Why are Different Questions

I have participated in both education and training in my teaching career.  For many years, I worked for the AICPA.  I would leave my DBU class and rush to the airport.  The next day I would lead a seminar for Certified Public Accountants.  Also, my consulting partner, David Deviney and I have produced this nice collection of half-day management seminars.  That’s training, which can and SHOULD be measured in ROI.  Because the definition of training is “Teaching a skill or behavior.”  It answers the “what” question.

Education is defined as “An enlightening experience,” because it answers the “why” question.  The unexamined life is not worth living.  Or “An unlived life is not worth examining.”  Get it?  


Work is Good

In Biblical Economic Policy, Sergiy Saydometov and I claim we have found Ten Biblical Commandments of Economics. The one that applies here is called “Work is good.”  We believe God worked in the very first verse of Genesis, and He wants us to work.  I explain that in more detail in podcast #24 titled Work is Good.  I warn my students against getting on their high horse about being educated and comparing themselves to those who did not earn a college degree, but had training.  My Dad owned a one-man fuel delivery business and encouraged his five kids to attend Christian liberal arts colleges.  He made a wonderful contribution to his community, as HVAC technicians and plumbers do.  Christians believe that all work is God’s work – with of course, a few exceptions for things like prostitution and pornography. 


An Audience of One

This idea of training to answer the “What” questions and educating to answer the “why” questions is answered for our students at Dallas Baptist University, every time they attend a basketball or volleyball game at the Burg Center on our campus.  The “what” is clearly exemplified in the practice and training they do as a team every day.  They “why” is answered by this sign that is posted above the entry to the gym.  It’s taken from a chapter title in The Call by Oz Guinness.  If you can’t remember how to spell his name, open your refrigerator.  Sorry, economics is not very funny, so I couldn’t resist the quip.  In the chapter, Guinness tells the very sad story of Margaret Carnegie, mother of robber baron Andrew Carnegie.  Her life mission was to return to their small town of Dunfermline, Scotland and ride in a coach pulled by fine horses, to show the people of her village that she was rich.  What a wasted life.  

In class, I explain that every good English teacher tells you to consider your audience when you’re writing.  I stand sideways to the class and tell students, “If you do your homework and earn good grades, in two years, you will walk across the stage of Pilgrim Chapel and face DBU President Dr. Adam Wright as he presents your diploma to you.  But the most important person in your life at that moment, is not Dr. Wright, whom you are facing.  It is that person out there in the audience, whom you’re trying to please.” “Who is that person?”  I ask my Sophomores.  

In The Call, Oz Guinness says that person should be God.  He should be our “audience of one.”  So our basketball and volleyball players are encouraged not to play for their parents, or coach, or even for their team-mates.  They are encouraged to play in a way that would please God.  

Now you’re gaining an understanding of why I reject the Wall Street Journal’s assumption that you can measure the worth of a college education in dollars.  You can’t.  Back to our basketball players: You can measure their training by how many points they score and games they win.  You can’t measure how much they honor God by playing basketball.  Don’t confuse the “what” and the “why” questions.

The summary of Guinness’ book The Call is that we have two calls: The first is to BE a Christian, the second is to DO something to serve your neighbors.  College education is much more about who you BE, than what you DO.  Think about how silly the Wall Street Journal articles sound now, as they try to use dollars to measure a person’s BEING.


When What I do Becomes Who I Am

My first book was titled Corporate Cults, subtitled “The Insidious Lure of the All-Consuming Organization.”  You may know that an author does not have total control over the title of a book.  My chosen subtitle was, “When what I do becomes who I am.”  You see, I was writing about the same topic that Oz Guinness writes about: Being and doing.   Being comes first.  I was trying to warn people to not allow “what I do” to become “who I am.” 

Ginger and I have five grandsons.  My hope is that someday they will say, “Grandpa Arnott taught me how to be a Christian Man.”  I’ve had about 5000 college students.  I hope they will say, “Professor Arnott helped me understand my world.”  That’s what we do in education, help people understand their world.  And, we are a community of learners.  My students regularly teach me how to use electronic communications, and an 18-year-old Freshman gave me a great lecture on blockchain and crypto-currencies over lunch last week.  That learning will not be represented in dollars of revenue. 

Means vs. Ends.  If you’ve been following my podcasts, you have noticed there is a familiar theme that goes like this: Christians are concerned about the means, Economists are concerned about the ends.  Education is more about the means, because it helps us determine what is good.  Training is more about the ends, because it measures what is completed.  Education cannot be measured in dollars.  Training can. 

The Liberal Arts

From your reading of the New Testament, you will remember that the Apostle Paul saved his skin a few times by explaining, “I am a Roman citizen.”  Okay, what’s that mean?  Well, this idea of letting the populace vote was attempted by the Greeks, and furthered by the Romans.  They didn’t get nearly as far as we are today, because slaves, nor women, nor many other categories could vote.  But the Romans thought about this, and deduced, “If we’re going to let the common man vote, he needs to have a liberal education.”  In Latin, “Libre” means free.  It means the education necessary to allow men to be free enough to vote.  That’s education, not training.  And it’s not effectively measured in dollars of revenue.

There were three general categories of the liberal arts education in the Roman scheme.  The first level was the trivium, which is just a big word for “three.”  It consisted of grammar, rhetoric, and logic.  The free man must know how to use the language via grammar.  Oh, back to my Dad again.  On the plains of South Dakota in the 1920’s, he attended a grammar school.  And, he had to study Latin.  He was being educated to be a “free man,” or a liberally educated man.  Also, the Roman free person needed to know rhetoric, or how to speak to persuade others.  And, perhaps the most interesting of the trivium, was logic.  I’m tempted to chase a rabbit on this one but I’ll reveal only one example and move on.  This week, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg stated that $5 trillion in spending would LOWER inflation.  Mr. Buttigieg would not be allowed to vote in the Roman era, because he did not understand logic.

The quadrivium was next.  Just another big word for “four.”  It contained geometry, arithmetic, music, and astronomy.  Only after understanding those subjects, could the Roman citizen move to the higher subjects of philosophy and theology.

Many Christian colleges have a liberal arts commitment.  That’s because we believe God wants us to understand our entire world, not just one small segment of it.  Again: Don’t ever degrade training.  I often tell my students that their learning is different from others, but it’s not better nor worse.  We could not have a modern world without auto mechanics and heavy machine operators, who are trained in the “what.”  The “what” CAN be measured in dollars of outcomes.  But, the Christian liberal arts outcomes – which teach the “why” cannot be measured in dollars, as the Wall Street Journal attempted this week. 


Read along with The Christian Economist:


Follow #TheChristianEconomist online:


Fear God,
Tell the Truth,
Earn a Profit.