For over 20 years, it has been my privilege to teach law students at Northwestern University Law School and very early in my career at four other law schools. At The American Bankers Association National Trust School and National Graduate Trust School, and currently at the distinguished Cannon Financial Institute for nearly 30 years I have taught bankers, brokers, insurance agents, financial planners, attorneys, accountants, et al. Graduate lawyer and banker education have been part of this rewarding educational experience as well as hundreds of tax institutes and seminars. There is no greater honor in any profession than to share knowledge with others and gain meaningful insight from the thoughtful questions of your students. I have been blessed by the many friendships which have developed over the years with younger and older students alike.
But, I may have become wiser over the years as a teacher and want to share one small part of that learning in this month’s column, entitled "Educational Gamesmanship." Travels to Asia have contributed meaningfully to the selection of this issue for commentary. In the East, education is taken seriously and is considered an end in itself.
I am troubled by a pre-occupation I have witnessed on and off for too long, particularly in banking and other fields where certification is pursued, a goal I consider worthy, desirable and vital to the public interest if kept in perspective. Every once in a while I have heard the comment "we are not here to learn," but "to pass a certification test." How sad it would be if that sentiment grew.
I am sympathetic to those who are sent to such schools by their bosses who spell out certification as the sole reason to attend, although I find that kind of thinking short-sighted on their part, and no doubt (I hope) a not too common phenomenon.
Nonetheless, this concerns me, no matter how necessary certification is as a commercial objective, mainly because no certification preparation has to exclude the equally important, if not more important, educational purposes, such as learning ideas with sales opportunities; learning ideas which improve a person’s ability to deal more effectively with changes in their lives; learning from their fellow students and networking in the process, and experiencing the enormous power of new ideas. It is important for there to be change in the students’ lives and their institutions by putting what they do for a living in their profession in perspective and by learning also about areas in which they currently do not work. By this means, they will gain the basis to lead this enormous industry to its ever-increasing goals of profitability, broadening market share, and, of course, to improve what they offer customers and others whom they advise. I should also make it clear that I have often taught certification courses which have as their sole goal the certification process and proudly appeared in the classroom and shared with students an in-depth review of what was necessary for test taking and did so with the express purpose of committing to that goal alone. There is nothing wrong at all in that approach. I am concerned only when a broader educational program which includes a certification component is plagued by imbalance on the students’ part in understanding how to mix the overall educational impact with the certification portion of what they are there to do.
On a happy note, I have seen in my teaching career the astonishing accomplishments of the students I have known. The law students now, in many cases, head their own firms or manage large firms and have become masters of their professions. An important group of my former students has been elevated to state and federal benches and many of them at very high levels. The bankers in my classrooms now head hundreds of private banking groups of institutions of all sizes particularly in the United States; and many are CEOs of the country’s leading banking firms, investment banking firms, investment advisory firms, consulting firms, trust companies and some huge companies in the private sector with billions of dollars of sales annually. What a humbling and joyous response to be able to make and, yes, some of these students are certified too — but to them education was not "gamesmanship."
Not yet enough said! I currently teach nowhere at which the sponsoring institution does not teach these values as stated, including the significance of certification, professional education and graduate education for the needed professional CLE credits and so forth. We live in a realistic and demanding world, and education must be relevant above all. Its practical aspects are as important as its inspirational aspects. Indeed, I cover few educational topics, as stated, without emphasizing their sales potential in virtually all the teaching I do.
Forgive me for wanting what is best in every student’s professional and personal life when our paths cross. It is, in part, because my students have given me so much and have so enriched my professional and personal life throughout these 30-plus years and I hope to continue teaching for many more years just so I can watch the heights students continue to attain and the difference they make for the better in the lives of their colleagues; their clients and customers; and their families and friends, like me.