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Education, Schooling and Learning…what’s in a name?

The faculty at my former University/employer is engaged in complicated discussions over the possibility of re-naming their unit.  Currently, they are the School of Education and Allied Human Services (SOEAHS).  The AHS part was added not too long ago to properly recognize the many non-school-based programs within the unit.  When I was there, my feelings about those discussions ranged from “ridiculous” to “really important.”  At times I thought, “names don’t matter; quality content does.”  Other times I thought, “names send really important messages.”  Though I’m no longer a full-time faculty member there, I find myself in the latter camp today.  Maybe I’ve been reading too much Seth Godin, but I think what we call ourselves positions us within a marketplace of both consumers (students) and ideas. 

So, I took a look at the Top 5 graduate schools of education (according to the U.S. News & World Report) and found the following names:

I haven’t formally analyzed the data, but I’d bet that if you went further down the list, you’d find the modal circumstance to be “School of Education” (like VCU, where I work).  And, that makes me wonder a couple of things.  First, if, as I believe, education is much more than formal schooling, are the collective bodies of departments and programs within those units truly about education or are they nearly exclusively focused on the institution of schooling?  Second, where is “learning” in all of this?

I noticed that Stanford offers a doctoral prograrm in “Learning Sciences and Technology.”  Sounds like a fantastic program.  Harvard offers degrees in “Learning and Teaching.”  I like that learning comes before teaching (see names do matter!).  And, UCLA has two main departments, one of which is the Department of Information Studies.  That’s neat and interesting, but at first glance, I didn’t see the word “learning” anywhere within their mission statement.

Thus, ultimately, I’m left wondering what the relationship is between education, schooling and learning.  If we go by the names of these graduate institutions, learning is a subset of the larger thing called education (i.e. it’s part of one or more programs offered within a school of education).  In some cases, based on names alone, it’s hard to know where learning fits in at all.  I’m not comfortable with that.

If I were naming the graduate institution in which I worked, it would have the word “learning” in it.  Also, to meet the realities of the modern world, I wouldn’t include the word “school” in our name either.  Maybe we’d be something like the Learning Sciences Institute.  Except, that’s already taken.  I knew those people at Vanderbilt were smart!


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