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Education for the sake of education

      
Todd Van Beck's picture
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In the last several weeks the subject of mortuary education has again popped up.  One of the professional journals did a survey of the state of the state of mortuary education and the results were not favorable.

A few good folks weighed in with thoughts, (including myself) and there were some salient points made.

One of the points made was the issue of requiring a Bachelor’s level degree for entry into funeral service – no matter what the position.  I took that position, and believe in my heart of hearts that this is an important issue, even though in most places this dream appears to have become the impossible dream – but people do need to dream, and funeral professionals these days need to dream about the future and take those dreams very seriously.

First a quick word concerning what has become the impossible job of being an instructor/professor within the world of mortuary education.  I have spent a few years of my career fulfilling this type of job, and I can tell anyone reading this, teaching mortuary science whether it be in the arts or sciences or both is not an easy task.  In fact it has gotten progressively more challenging and just plain difficult over the years for one major reason – lack of time.

The curriculums of each of the testable subjects on the National Board exam that have to be taught in mortuary colleges has consistently increased year by year, decade by decade, American Board meeting by American Board meeting, and THAT I BELIEVE IS A GOOD THING.  Reformation and expansion of any professional curriculum is a good thing no matter the profession.

However within the mortuary science arena a major glitch exists.  While the information concerning each subject area has grown, the amount of time that is given to teach this additional academic information has not grown in tandem.  The result is that in 2010 professors of mortuary science are literally scrambling to get all the information stuffed into say a quarter, or a semester, but certainly stuffed into on average one calendar year.  This curriculum crunch translates into students taking packed quarters after quarters or semesters after semesters.  

For the good student, who would succeed under any academic conditions, this is not a problem.  However for the  low average or poor student way too often the results of the necessary curriculum packing results in less than successful performance and many times failure.  Let me state this: I believe that when mortuary science students do fail it is not always the fault of the mortuary science instructors or even the student; the “dump-truck” approach concerning the literal ton of information that must be taught in such a short time must be taken into account to be fair to everyone concerned.

I know firsthand when I was teaching I most times took a sigh of relief when the quarter was over and I was successful in getting taught all the required information which was necessary to insure that the students had gotten what they needed and gotten what they had paid for.  

Add to this was the glaring situation that the curriculum itself was not only crunched for time, but the curriculum as a result was lop-sided.  In other words there were subjects that had few if any questions on the National Board being given the same about of credit hour value as subjects that might have dozens of questions on the National Board.

Looking back it is amazing that the system works as well as it does, and my hat goes off to the mortuary science instructors, who are relegated to basically the same amount of actual mortuary arts and science teaching time that was used in 1930 but today add to this 1930 time hundreds more pages of require curriculum.

So what to do?  I want to suggest that the mortuary science curriculum in order today to be able to just breath, in order for the professors to take their time in teaching, in order for the average or poor student to improve, in order for long term learning (vs. stale memorization) to take place, in order to raise the professional standards of this great profession a serious, progressive, timely, long overdue movement of establishing as a minimum a Bachelor’s degree in funeral service needs to take root and be allowed to grow and flourish.

Minnesota did it, Ohio did it.  If those great states can do it the possibility and nay reality exists that every state can do it.  

The other benefit of requiring a Bachelor’s degree is that the curriculum can be given fresh life of academic freedom and philosophy that instead of the education being taught to pass an extremely important examination, the teaching could also take place in the classroom or internet that reflects the nobility of the concept of education just for the time honored sake of education – for human learning.  

Education for the sake of education, my oh my, how many times in my career had I wished that in say funeral service ethics for instance I might have spent another week on the philosophy of what the great thinkers of the western world had to say about the ethical care of the dead – and trust me my friends they most all had something to say, and what they said WAS NOT THE PHILOSOPHY OF IMMEDIATE DISPOSITION OF THE DEAD – FAR FROM IT.

However I was not able to accomplish that teaching ideal and hope, and is it not sad when a mortuary educator wants to teach more but does not have the literal time to do it because of ancient constraints?

Education for the sake of education, what a strong, liberating, forward thinking position for funeral service to adopt, for a profession is always gauged and ultimately evaluated by the educational requirements that must be attained in order for entry into such work.

When I was in Mortuary College I took a ton of chemistry, and I hated it, and I judged it as to its daily relevancy in daily funeral service/embalming work, and from that myopic position, chemistry just lost out.

However today I don’t look at my chemistry studies in mortuary college just based on its relevance to embalming – because if I did chemistry would again lose.  I am damned happy I took chemistry even though it drove me nuts.

Today I realize that I was educated in chemistry, not just for embalming, but for the quality of my life – for human learning.  I don’t use chemistry when I embalm, per se, but I use it every day of my life.  Little things, like this.  My father is an extremely bright person, but when he and I watch the Discovery Channel I most often can follow along when they are talking about chemistry.  This is NOT the case for my father however; in fact this bright man would not know the atomic chart from a pipe organ.  That, my friend, is a living example of education for the noble sake of education, no matter what, I have a understanding of chemistry, my father does not, and I learned that material in mortuary college, as well as a whole lot more stuff, but even then we were slowed by the issue of NO TIME.

Today’s mortuary science instructors need time, more time, and I believe that can only be accomplished when funeral service universally across this great country adopts, implements, and protects the minimum level academic requirement of a Bachelor’s degree.

Anyway that is one old undertaker’s opinion.  

TVB