The Public Interest

Educating for the Professions: Introduction

The Editors

Spring 1985

No country matches the United States in the profusion of its types of professional education, for public service and for specialized occupations that aspire to become professions.  This series addresses problems of education for professions that has some role in making, administering, or interpreting public policy.  We exclude medicine and law:  Despite criticism of the way they education these professional schools are not easily affected by criticism from the outside—or the inside.  They control access to lucrative professions of great prestige, and that seems to protect them from the need to consider or undertake drastic changes.  But when it comes to schools for public policy, public health, educational administration, business, city planning, journalism, social work, and much else, controversy has flourished since the time, not very long ago, that schools for these professions were established.  It seems we will not do without them:  It is a rare radical who proposes total abolition.  It also seems we are at a loss as to what they should be, and are dissatisfied with their products.  They shift, often radical, in the kind of scientific or academic disciplines they prefer as the basis for their curriculum.  Economics? or psychology? or sociology? or political science? or moral philosophy?  They shift and disagree over the kind of teaching that makes the best preparation.  Case study?  Classroom disciplinary education?  Internship?  Apprenticeship?  Game-playing?  While the study of medicine and law proceeds along a scarcely ruffled or changed path, set more than three generations ago, the schools for the minor professions dealing with public affairs are deeply affected by shifts in fashion, taste, knowledge, and assumption.  Two or three radical changes in a generation are not uncommon.  None of the types of professional education we have listed has escaped serious debate, going to the foundations of the profession and the type of education necessary for it.  In each, we find conflicts among students, teachers, professional organizations, and the representatives of the public at large as to what they should be and what they should do.  In each, troubling doubts affect leading practitioners of the profession and leaders in professional education, not to mention thoughtful students attending the schools.

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