Theory and practice in professions

Broad horizon

Broad horizon

As long as we have education, I guess there will always be discussions on how to best educate people for various professions. Should we teach more theory? Should we give them more time in the field, in internships?

I cannot remember there being much discussion on this when I did my bachelor`s. Partly because I think I was too preoccupied on getting good grades and doing my work, but also because I just went with the flow. I remember that we talked about the stupidity of learning manual (non-computerized) catalogues and writing our cataloguing assignments out (again, manually) on paper in MARC format, but still.. no great discussions. That was silly of us. We should have taken that up with the dean. I can not remember that any of us thought it a bad idea to learn basic philosophy or discuss various classification theories. I guess we felt that it was a natural part of being educated.

I just read an op-ed from the Norwegian Nurses Association`s magazine “Sykepleien”, where a philosopher discusses why he wants the nurse who treats him in hospital to have read Kant. His point is that the nurse, who naturally should be able to put in an IV line., needs to have more than the basic skills. The nurse is also a representative for the profession, and needs to have a broader horizon. S/he needs to feel strong and confident enough to make good decisions, and to tell other people outside the profession about what is going on. S/he needs to take a stand on difficult issues and to be able to argue the case from social, economic and theoretical points of view. I couldn`t agree more. If we simply wanted nurses to be able to do pure procedural, technical things, then we didn`t really have to put them through college at all. We could just give them internships straight out of high school and have a mentor teach them how to put in that IV.

The same goes for librarians (and every other profession, of course). Learning the basics of philosophy and how we think never did me any harm. On the contrary, it made me think about why we do what we do, why we think the way we do. Now, of course, some of the theory I had could have been presented in a much better way (and as Torbjørn Olseth, the author of the op-ed I linked to furher up this text, said: there is such a thing as bad theory, too). I wish all professors had the storify skills of Robert Rowland Smith, author of Breakfast with Socrates 🙂  And I wish that the theory (not just philosophy..) was better suited to make me understand my own profession. But I have never thought that I was worse off for learning the theory before heading out into the field. Learning to think was one of the most important things I learned in college, not that I consider myself an expert or in any way “finished” with this. Being educated meant learning ABOUT, just as much as learning HOW, and I am happy about that.