A Gutenberg Education Is an Opportunity

by Toby Johnston

[Tobin Johnston is a graduate and lifelong supporter of Gutenberg College. He has been in the career development field over fifteen years, over nine years working as a job developer with individuals with disabilities for vocational rehabilitation. For the last four years, he has worked as a Business & Employment Specialist for the Oregon Employment Department. He is currently an administrator for the Oregon Career Information System and a certified Career Development Facilitator.]


How do we interest students in Gutenberg’s project, given that it is antithetical to the goals of the current educational climate in America that emphasizes specialized career education? How do we convince students to care more about a well-lived life than a well-paid career? In short, why should a student value a Gutenberg education?

Gutenberg answers this question by unapologetically standing by its mission to examine faith and humanity through the reading and discussion of great ideas and great authors. By standing firmly for the cause of preparing students to pursue a life well lived, Gutenberg rallies to itself not only those who are already committed to this goal but also those who have only an inkling that the questions students examine at Gutenberg are important and that Gutenberg is a place for them to seek answers.

I would add this to Gutenberg’s answer: It is the rigors of this examination that give Gutenberg’s students the skills and knowledge that transform them into leaders in both our communities and a wide range of industries. Although Gutenberg’s graduates are well qualified for occupations in which Liberal Arts majors have traditionally been expected to enter (writing and teaching professions, for example), Gutenberg’s exhaustive training develops in its graduates aptitudes that match skills required in some of the most rewarding, most effective positions in America’s leading, highest growth industries. The vocations I have in mind resist the conveniences of mechanical automation and remain immune to the obsolescing grasp of advancing technology and times.

Before I list these vocations, let’s look at three aptitudes in particular that Gutenberg fosters. I have divided the personal strengths and occupational skill set of a Gutenberg graduate into three distinct aptitudes: interpretation, articulation, and critique.

By interpretation, I mean the ability to understand materials and perspectives—that is, the ability to discover the internal logic or reasoning of a subject, text, system, or rule. Examples are a lawyer interpreting a law, a lab tech interpreting field data, or a business manager understanding a brief.

By articulation, I mean the ability to communicate clearly—that is, the ability to explain complex mechanisms in straightforward ways; the ability to facilitate others’ understanding by dialectic means, moving an individual or a group of listeners from ignorance to understanding; and the ability to transform an audience of diverse self-interests into an audience open to compromise or to transform the skeptical or indifferent hearer into a persuaded supporter.

And finally, by critique, I mean the ability to apply creative thought to systems and networks of ideas in order to achieve some goal or solve some problem, either complex or simple. Examples are a project manager assessing work output or an IT technician solving a software problem.

Obviously, these aptitudes are not exclusive to Gutenberg students; however, Gutenberg’s discussion-based learning, with its emphasis upon clear thinking, clear communicating (speaking and writing), and diligent exegesis of a vast and varied selection of source materials characterized as extremely difficult to read and comprehend, provides an ideal arena for the specific kind of learning needed to foster these aptitudes. Ability can vary from student to student, but completion of Gutenberg’s academic program implies a high proficiency, if not a mastery, of each distinct aptitude.
I could, of course, include more aptitudes than the three described above. For instance, I could have ascribed to the Gutenberg graduate the skills of active listening, contextualization, creative association, or even public speaking.

I could have added qualities more traditionally associated with a person’s character: empathy, patience, humility, earnestness; being a charitable listener or someone unafraid of conflict. I decided to select interpretation, articulation, and critique from the myriad of potential aptitudes because these three are the most sought after, relatable to the widest numbers of occupational fields, and applicable to each of the industries discussed below.

So now let’s look at a few of the positions for which the three aptitudes qualify the Gutenberg graduate. I would describe a person holding one of these positions as a “synergist”—that is, an individual whose job is cohesion, whether between different verticals and horizontals within a single organization or as a liaison between separate interests. Synergists share several essential qualities. They serve in the role of guidance, intercession, explanation, analysis, and decision-making. They convey knowledge, advocate for perspectives, negotiate between various stakeholders (for example, senior staff and field staff, subject-matter experts and laypersons, Creative Departments versus Tech Departments), and initiate movement (for example, from policy to application or from static information to actionable goals). Synergists form essential and universally applicable links within an organizational chain; their role is often related to interpreting data, explaining information, anticipating the need for change, and recommending a course of action.

Because Gutenberg trains effective and powerful learners, communicators, and thinkers, I believe that a Gutenberg graduate can enter and excel in nearly any field or line of work where learning is placed at a premium. However, I have singled out the jobs below from a myriad of potential occupations based on the following three criteria:

  1. They require at least two of the three aptitudes mentioned above.
  2. They do not necessarily require further education or a specialized degree (although many do).
  3. They are in emergent and growing fields.

Analyst* (salaries range from $40,000 to $150,000): Analyst positions often require all three aptitudes. They require the careful examination and critique of information followed by convincing and actionable recommendations for significant organizational change. Anywhere information can be obtained, an analyst could find meaningful and gainful employment. Here are some examples of potential titles and employers: Intelligence Analyst (CIA, FBI, and many other federal and state agencies); Policy and Operation Analyst (federal, state, or any organization that must follow regulatory guidelines); Business, Product, HR, Management, and Organizational Analyst (all industries); Account, Cost, Quantitative, and Financial Analyst (all industries); Systems Analyst (corporate, government, and technology organizations).

Arbiter (salaries range from $33,000 to $218,000): Arbiters are tasked with reviewing and interpreting a set of rules or guidelines before applying their understanding to static or dynamic information clusters. They have a strong set of interpretational and associative skills. They are often engaged in holding simultaneous understandings of an ideal truth and its imperfect representation or deviant reality. The ability to make strong comparisons and cost-benefit analysis is essential in this role. Here are some examples of potential occupations: lawyer, legal professional, adjudicator, detective, judge, inspector/investigator, insurance examiner, Human Resources generalist, social worker, regulator, and psychiatrist.

Advisor (salaries range from $30,000 to $218,000): Advisor roles can be distinguished from the analyst role by a de-emphasis on the importance of critique. Advisors are experts of narratives and decision matrices. They not only highlight and explain potential actionables but also reflect to the individual his or her own goals, values, and priorities. Advisor positions often require a high level of personal investment and active listening on the part of the advisor. Distinct from analysts, advisors measure their success not in terms of the success of a project but rather in terms of personal goals obtained by the persons they advise. Here are some examples of potential occupations: psychologist, therapist, mental health counselor, academic and career advisor, customer-support and help-desk person, trainer/facilitator, advocate, physical therapist, legislative assistant, agile project coordinator, business transformation consultant, interim manager, and public relationship manager.

Observer (salaries range from $30,000 to $171,000): The observer role is not as passive as one might think. It shares similarities with the analyst role more than any other. The close monitoring of localized activity or a scope of focus, perceiving and interpreting changing systems, and interpreting/speculating as to the reason and cause of sometimes isolated effects are all a part of this job. The ability to imagine unique explanations for accepted effects and to connect seemingly isolated observations and data groups are the lion’s share of work activities. Here are some examples of potential occupations: news analyst, market-research analyst, lab technician, field-research technician, research and development specialist, risk assessor, occupational health and safety specialist, detective, quality assurance coordinator, and economist.

The roles I have described exist in nearly every industry and every field. This list is hardly expansive, but it does show that the aptitudes I described are viable. Gutenberg graduates are capable of entering and advancing in any occupation that involves ideas, concepts, and methods available for discovery; that needs interpretative skills; and that is substantial enough to receive critique.

Why, then, should a student value a Gutenberg education? Because Gutenberg provides a tremendous opportunity: not only to examine life’s big questions and pursue a life well lived but also to gain the skills of learning necessary to master nearly every course of learning. The man or woman who thinks creatively, who reads carefully, who critiques honestly, who communicates clearly, and who speaks truthfully and compassionately is an individual who can always serve a role in society and who is always, regardless of the position held within an organization, an asset to his or her employer.


*The main information sources used in this article were the Oregon Career Information System (www. oregoncis.uoregon.edu), the Oregon Employment Department website (www.qualifyinfo.org), and the Glassdoor (www.glassdoor.com). The Oregon CIS provides a comprehensive system of occupational and educational information in conjunction with current employment trends and accurate labor market forecasts. The Glassdoor is a company-ratings site that aggregates company reviews and actual salaries from employees of large companies.


Copyright January 2017 by McKenzie Study Center, an institute of Gutenberg College.

Toby Johnston