Adult education researchers have long taken the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus said “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath”, as a parable for their own field. The so-called Matthew Principle in adult learning states that the more and better your initial education, the greater the likelihood that you will return to learning throughout your adult life.
This basic insight can be seen in virtually every survey of adult learning, and has now been confirmed in a new Gallup poll. As part of its work on a national Well-Being Index, the company asked American adults for their reactions to the statement: “You learn or do something interesting every day”. They then weighted the responses to adjust for age, gender, race, income, region and marital status.
The results showed that while most Americans agreed with this statement, the proportion varied at every stage by prior educational level. Thus 74% of those with some postgraduate education agreed that they learned or did something interesting each day, falling to 63% among those with a high school diploma or less.
Like all surveys, the results end up bundling together a number of different people who have different experiences and understandings of the issues. Still, they can be insightful, and thought-provoking. This particular poll interested me for two reasons.
The first is the question asked, which is extremely broad and includes all kinds of informal learning. The survey doesn’t tell us anything more, and it may be that our prior education shapes our tendency to define an experience as ‘learning’ or to see it as ‘interesting’. Or it may be that the highly educated are more confident when faced with a new experience, and more likely to see it as intriguing and less likely to see it as a threat. And – most probable of all in my view – the highly educated are unlikely to find themselves in routine jobs that bore the socks off them.
The second thought-provoking feature is the conclusions that the authors draw. Rather than expressing concern over inequality, they recommend that universities should devote more energy and resources to tracking intangible outcomes of higher education. Presumably this would then allow the universities to beef up their marketing claims, while drumming up more business for the Gallup Well-being Index.